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Four issues England must address before facing the All Blacks again

By Josh Raisey
George Martin of England looks dejected following the International Test Match between New Zealand All Blacks and England at Forsyth Barr Stadium on July 06, 2024 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

In a contest as close as England’s with the All Blacks on Saturday, there is no need for Steve Borthwick to throw out the playbook following a 16-15 defeat. 

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There were many positives that England’s head coach can take into their second Test at Eden Park on Saturday. With that said, there were some red flags.

England captain Jamie George vowed after the match “We’ll do a lot of honest work this week and make sure we go to Eden Park fully prepared. We’ll learn and we’ll grow and we’ll get better.”

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Steve Borthwick impressed by young England side in tight All Blacks loss | Steinlager Series

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Steve Borthwick impressed by young England side in tight All Blacks loss | Steinlager Series

England’s attacking transformation between their loss to Scotland and win over Ireland in the Six Nations this year proves how quickly a team can smooth out any concerns, and Borthwick will be hoping for a similar level of growth this week in some areas.

Some things can be fixed in a matter of a couple of sessions, while some may be slightly more deep-rooted. Here are four:

Match Summary

4
Penalty Goals
1
2
Tries
2
1
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
93
Carries
108
8
Line Breaks
5
14
Turnovers Lost
10
5
Turnovers Won
2

Goal kicking
Almost every kicker has an off-day with the boot from time to time, but when your predecessor was the seemingly metronomic Owen Farrell, you are likely to be judged by the standards set by Test rugby’s second-highest point scorer.

That’s the problem that Marcus Smith faces, as does George Ford and Fin Smith. No matter how well he played against the All Blacks, taking the ball to the line in a way the soon-to-be-Racing 92 flyhalf cannot, the performance of most No.10s will ultimately come down to the brass tacks of how well they kicked.

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A record of two from five is not up to scratch at Test rugby, and worse still, the manner of the misses is all the more alarming. While Smith’s missed conversion for Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s try was forgivable, his penalty misses in the opening minutes of the first and second half were less so. In a game that was decided by a solitary point, the importance of those wayward kicks is magnified.

The positive for England and the Harlequin is that this issue could simply have been a bad day at the office. After all, Handre Pollard was not much better from the tee against Ireland later that day, but Rassie Erasmus nor the Springbok will be particularly phased.

Smith will no doubt be assiduously labouring away on the training paddock to make sure that display was just a minor blip, but if there are early signs of creaking again, Borthwick may have to act swiftly.

Bench boost
A feature of Borthwick’s tenure as England boss so far is that he likes to make early substitutions in the second half, chiefly in the pack. Not once during the Six Nations did the starting front row see the 55th minute as a collective, for instance. Saturday was no different.

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Now there is a welter of statistics that drive the decision-making process regarding substitutions that we outside the England camp are not exposed to, but surely the old-fashioned eye test still has some credence.

Chandler Cunningham-South in no way looked like a player that needed to be taken off on Saturday. He began his second half by smashing into Stephen Perofeta before carving his way through the All Blacks’ defence in the build-up to Feyi-Waboso’s try. That followed a first half where he had a hand in Maro Itoje’s try. His match came to an end after only 50 minutes, however.

There was a tactical justification for removing the flanker, but it did not pay off, nor did any other changes in truth. In contrast, the bulk of Scott Robertson’s alterations seemed to boost his side, which helps explain why the hosts were able to control the final ten minutes of the match.

There is always an element of risk to making changes as, even if a team is struggling, the devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don’t. While every coach dreams of their bench making the kind of impact South Africa’s Bomb Squad did against Ireland, on this occasion England’s failed to provide a spark.

This is something that can theoretically be remedied in a week, but may come with time and experience for Borthwick.

Support
Neither England nor the All Blacks were particularly efficient at keeping hold of the ball for long stretches. While both sides found ways to cough up possession in a variety of ways, a reliable source of turnovers for the All Blacks came from targeting isolated English runners.

Scott Barrett and co were able to sniff out any instance where an Englishman was taking the ball into contact without a cavalry ruck-hitters to secure possession, and they duly punished them.

Tom Curry was therefore brought on to provide a touch more dynamism to the pack at the expense of the high-flying Cunningham-South. The ‘Kamikazee Kids’ duo with Sam Underhill had proven to be fruitful in the past against the All Blacks, and Borthwick was hoping for something similar.

Bizarrely, this move worked out too well as Curry conceded a penalty within minutes of coming on for diving straight over at a ruck after latching onto George Martin as the Leicester Tigers lock took the ball into contact.

Borthwick clearly identified this issue in-match, and while he was not wholly successful in finding a solution, he has all week to do so now.

The obvious answer is a change in personnel, but, as seen in Dunedin, that will come at a price in other departments of the game, as shown with Cunningham-South’s departure. But England’s starting set of forwards were not exactly lacking in speed, so it may well be a case of sticking with what they have (albeit with an enforced change) and tightening up any loose bolts heading to Auckland.

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Scrum time
The phrase ‘no scrum, no win’ exists for a reason. England have had worse days at the scrum in recent memory, but this was still not a great day for England’s forwards in that department.

Borthwick’s front row did enjoy some success, but the All Blacks got the upper hand in the final quarter, which contributed to them being able to close the game out.

The visitors were not helped by losing all 95 caps-worth of experience in Joe Marler in the opening stages, with the uncapped Fin Baxter being thrown in at the deep end. Things will not get much better with Marler now ruled out of the second Test.

George highlighted this as an area to work on after the match, and though tough, it seems do-able for Borthwick and his coaching team. After all, this was not a demolition job by the All Blacks.

England tighthead Kyle Sinckler was keen to stress how such issues can be resolved in the space of a week.

“The scrum, they will be disappointed with the outcome,” Sinckler said as a pundit for Sky Sports. “But when it comes to the scrum, it’s just tiny little adjustments and they can fix that in a week and obviously, working with Tom Harrison, they’ve got massive experience in that front row so I believe they can fix that in a week.”

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All Black second row Brodie Retallick joins Jim Hamilton for the latest episode of Walk the Talk, touching on life in Japan, RWC 2023 and the future of All Black rugby. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

34 Comments
N
Nickers 10 days ago

The ABs let England into the game with some very poor tactics. All the steam is taken out of rush defence by simply kicking the ball instead of running it. ABs can do that with even more comfort this week without worrying about Furbank running it back.

If DMac can show some discipline and only look to go wide when England have too many forwards on the ground they can win comfortably. If they resort to the Super Rugby inspired madness of last week’s first half they will be looking at their first loss at Eden Park for 30 years. You would think a brand new ABs team that has only been together 10 days with a new coach has more potential to improve than England from one week to the next, but if the ABs end up chasing the game against that England D things could go pear shaped.

S
Shaylen 13 days ago

England need another 10 tests to really become the finished product they are after. The point is they are making progress week in and week out and they are only getting better. Expect an improvement from both teams this week and with the margins so tight its really about who improves more. First 20mins will be vital and England need to do their best to maintain parity in those moments. If they can take a lead into half time and find more impact in the second half than last week then they will win. Expect the AB’s to be about 10% better than last week so will be really difficult.

P
Paul 13 days ago

A Great TEST Match. English Very strong. Good enough to
beat any team in the World on
Saturday. All blacks only really
Dominated the match in the last 5 minutes
Thanks to a miss kick to the back field by B.B. But All Blacks will be a lot better this week.
Bad luck England

J
Jmann 14 days ago

I’ve actually really enjoyed watching England play since the world cup. Borthwick has them playing decent English rugby. They should have made the final of RWC2023 (but they just couldn’t get enough impact from their bench). Eden park will a great test for them to see if they can hold their nerve. Just like the Bok they play a brand that is poison to NZ rugby and I imagine given enough games it will (just like the Bok) win them 2 out of 5 games against the ABs. It’ll be a fascinating watch. IF NZ can unpick the defence it will be over by the 50 minute mark. But England’s defence seems unbending so I’m picking a close game that could go either way. Nic Berry is ref so that means hands all over the ruck will be ok and the scrums will be a lottery.

T
Toaster 14 days ago

There’s an awful lot of what England must do and what went wrong on here

There’s a lot that the ABs need to do too

I see Brian Moore losing it over scrums

T
Tom 14 days ago

Our bench strategy was dodgy. Took off players still playing well and replaced them unnecessarily with lesser players that killed our tempo namely, Chandler, Mitchell, Smith. This cost us the world cup semi final when we could have kept our starting props on. There is of course merit to bringing on fresh blood at 55 but that assumes the players coming off the bench are nearly as good. In key positions for England, they are not. Fin Baxter managed to play for nearly the entire match, surely Chandler and Mitchell could do another few mins and I don't ever see the point of subbing your fly half unless you're losing badly or the game is in the bag. Marcus should stay on. Fin Smith is a great kid who may be an England legend one day but at the moment, he's not making any impact.

B
Bull Shark 14 days ago

On the topic of scrums - England’s front row is nothing special. I’d like to see some new fresh faces emerging sooner rather than later.

As the no.5 team in the world, England is only really capable of building to another WC campaign in 2027. And maybe a 6 Nations shot next year or so (although you can’t see this England team consistently beating Ireland or France) - so I’m not sure why we’re (I’m) not seeing any new talent in the tight five worth writing home about. The old guard is well Past or approaching past their prime. Which is why a messy NZ still pipped them to the post.

The fact that England is clearly unearthing some excellent loose forwards - they’re going to be hamstrung by this old tight five as time goes by. We’ve got some fancy looking bits and bobs on an old engine.

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Wonton 2 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

18 Go to comments
N
Nick 4 hours ago
How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp

Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

14 Go to comments
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