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'It's very easy when you lose a man to hit the panic button'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Michael Steele/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Freddie Steward has shared his delight in Marseille about how England reacted so brilliantly to having to play with 14 men for their 77 minutes in their Rugby World Cup opener versus Argentina.


There were only three minutes gone on the clock at Stade Velodrome when Tom Curry was yellow-carded for his head-on-head contact with Juan Cruz Mallia.

That sanction was soon upgraded to red by the foul player review officer but England reacted brilliantly to their third yellow-upgraded-to-red card in four matches, going on to beat the Pumas 27-10.

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Those previous reds – for Owen Farrell in the 64th minute versus Wales in London and Billy Vunipola in the 53rd minute in Dublin – had given Borthwick’s team a taste of how to cope with being a red-carded man down.

It was also just six months ago when Steward himself was red-carded on the stroke of half-time in Dublin (a punishment rescinded to yellow at a subsequent midweek disciplinary hearing).


Marseille became the jackpot payout for all those man-down experiences. “Definitely, when you have been somewhere before it’s always easier to channel that. Throughout this whole pre-season there has still been genuine belief,” enthused Steward.

“It’s been said a lot; these are the games that matter. Coming into a World Cup, regardless of our form, we started on zero points. We had to be tough. Obviously, we lost Tom early on and I suppose it’s the ultimate test isn’t it: When you go a man down, can you still find something? We did.”


George Ford was the jewel in the English crown, stroking over all 27 points that his try-less team scored. “He is one of those players that make it look so easy. He makes everyone else look great and that is the telling side of a player like George.

“He is a dream to play with. It’s so nice when you stand behind him and he is slotting drop goals for fun, it makes everyone else’s life a lot easier. He is such a tactician.

“It’s very easy when you lose a man to hit the panic button and everyone’s like ‘argh’ and heads are in the air, but George was ice cool about it and when you have one person doing it, it radiates around the team.

“To have someone like him at 10, you just trust him. You trust that he is going to make the right decision.”


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Bob Marler 310 days ago

Kiwi fans take note. You can win 14 vs 15.

Mark 310 days ago

Fair play to England, they turned up, stood up and played intelligently.
Ford delivering a masterclass in game management and keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Curry's red was ridiculously harsh.

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Nickers 48 minutes ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

12 Go to comments
Thomas 58 minutes ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

15 Go to comments
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