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'England break down after three phases and run out of ideas'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Former Test winger James Simpson-Daniel has delivered a withering assessment of the England attack under Steve Borthwick ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener against Argentina.

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The English are set to fly south from their Le Touquet-Paris-Plage base camp on Thursday afternoon ahead of their opener in Marseille and they travel with Simpson-Daniel becoming the latest ex-international to heap heavy criticism on them.

England have arrived into the tournament on the back of five defeats in their last six matches, and six defeats in their nine outings so far since Steve Borthwick took charge from the ousted Eddie Jones.

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Defence has been a massive problem – England have conceded 30 tries in 2023 – but their blunt attack has also been a massive hindrance.

For example, Jonny May’s ninth-minute try versus Fiji on August 26 was the first by a back since Ollie Lawrence dotted down in the 75th minute against Wales last February.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

3
Wins
3
1
Streak
2
13
Tries Scored
17
-5
Points Difference
37
2/5
First Try
2/5
2/5
First Points
3/5
1/5
Race To 10 Points
2/5

In between, England went five full matches without a back being a try-scorer. “England are so predictable and limited with our attack,” bemoaned Simpson-Daniel, speaking to OLBG. “If we are five metres out we do what everyone else does, pick and go.

“When you bring it back to the 22, it’s like we will crash someone up. If we don’t make much ground, cross-field kick and if we claim it back, okay. We break down after three phases and run out of ideas.

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“When I have watched Saracens play they have got an amazing attack. They all know what they are doing, there is a very quick ruck and they get the ball away quickly. They are keeping defences guessing and even if they do read it they have so many options.

“Bear in mind England have gone for the Saracens core among their senior players. If we don’t make the pick and go work, we struggle and cross-kick. We don’t try to develop a penalty advantage with quick ball, catching the opponents offside. We are so limited with our ideas.”

Simpson-Daniel, who has 10 caps, was a fringe player left out of the squad when England won the 2003 Rugby World Cup under Clive Woodward. He described their recent Summer Nations Series loss to Fiji at Twickenham as their worst display in the professional era, adding that their indiscipline is incredibly frustrating.

“The loss to Fiji was one of the worst performances England have produced in 30 years. We have had several years of stumbling along. As a former player, to see it is very disheartening.

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“What was really deflating after the Fiji game was the fact those conditions should have suited us. They should have totally been against Fiji – and they have come to Twickenham and won reasonably easily.

“Fiji played all the rugby in the conditions, their set-piece held up and they had at last found a goal kicker. They covered us off in all areas which was why it was so deflating.

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“English discipline is also so poor it’s getting ridiculous. That is clearly an issue going into the World Cup. Yellow cards and red cards abound. There are things you can control. I had a coach at school who said we might have a terrible rugby side but there are certain things you could control – such as discipline and fitness.

“Being sloppy is what is frustrating to a player and the fans. You can see sloppy penalties, laziness and not getting back onside. You can control the simple things in the game even when you are not firing. That is what is so frustrating, not playing a great brand of rugby, making poor decisions and indiscipline.”

The unimpressive August has generated fears that England – the 2019 finalists – might repeat their 2015 World Cup and fail to get out of a group that also contains Japan, Chile and Samoa, as well as Saturday’s first opponents Argentina. Yet, Simpson-Daniel has called on fans to keep the faith.

“England might not get out of the group. Looking at the form, why would you think they could? The gap between the supposed top nations and those in the so-called tier two has clearly been bridged. However, if you are England, you would think we sit a little above those and have the capability to beat them in a close match.

“Don’t give up on England yet. People might say I’m mad but when you break it down into small plays it doesn’t take a lot to top the group and get into a semi-final and that’s unbelievable really. The World Cup draw is incredible – how can half of the top four teams not make it to the semi-final stage?

“Two of the top four in the world aren’t going to make it to the semi-finals. That’s incredible. How can that be right? But from an England perspective on their side of the draw, it’s an incredibly disappointing Australia side and Wales will be having their own jitters.”

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