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England A ratings vs Portugal | 2024 Welford Road

By Chris Jones
Charlie Atkinson of England pictured during the rugby international match between England A and Portugal at Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium on February 25, 2024 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick, the England head coach, was present and wanted to see some of the country’s best talent operate at a higher level but this game was a mismatch and any report card on the men in white would have to come with an asterisk pointing out the limitations of the opposition. The display of Harry Randall, the Bristol No.9, was impressive and he made the most of the contest which ended 91-5 to the home side.

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The lopsided result has to be tempered by the fact that this was not the first-choice Portugal team that defeated Fiji 24-23 at last year’s Rugby World Cup in France. None of that side appeared in this fixture which gave the next group of young Portuguese players the opportunity to make their case for a step up. However, on this showing they do not have enough strength in depth and conceded more than a point a minute in the first half.

On this evidence, England would have got more out of a match against their U20 team as the opposition just did not have the necessary quality at this level.

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England  A

15 Josh Hodge (Exeter Chiefs) – 6
Covers the back field well thanks to his outstanding pace and showed glimpses of this in attack. Solid in defence and benefiting from a run of games now that he is full fit after injury set backs.

14 Cadan Murley (Harlequins) – 7
Proven finisher he collected a hat-trick although he did make  a couple of errors in attack including putting boot to ball when keeping  it in the hands was the order of the day against a fractured Portugese defence.

13 Oscar Beard (Harlequins) – 6
Played a good linking role in first half before having to switch to the left wing. Does all of the basics well and strong in the tackle. Used this match to enhance his position as a quality back and was eager for work

12 Max Ojomoh (Bath Rugby) – 7
Brought his A game to the A game and looked the part in a back division given plenty of ball to work with. Direct and powerful, he is going to be a real option in the mid-field for the senior squad. Dropped the ball over the line to blot his copybook.

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11 Will Muir (Bath Rugby) – 6
The rangy wing is always looking for work and showed both his pace and willingness to chase box kicks and makes his presence felt in the tackle. Lots of talent looking to play on the wing for England. Limped off early in second half.

10 Charlie Atkinson (Gloucester Rugby) – 8
Missed his first three conversions but this did not affect his confidence. Controlled the attacking game with assurance and has a good range of passes. A clever chip brought one of the many tries.

9 Harry Randall (Bristol Bears) – 9
One poor kick was the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding performance by the live wire scrum half. He could be England’s answer to Jamison Gibson-Park offering rapid service and a real eye for a gap.

1 Fin Baxter (Harlequins) – 6
Would have liked more chances to show his play with ball in hand but scrummaged strongly and put his shoulder to the wheel at the driving mauls to build on his reputation as a prop who can step up to the next level

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2 Jamie Blamire (Newcastle Falcons) – 6
Hit is his jumpers and enjoyed himself in a game that suits his style of play which is akin to an extra flanker. Couple of handling mistakes but overall he showed how many quality hookers in England.

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3 Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers) – 7
Got better as the game progressed, showed a ball carrying quality that is needed by those hoping to impress Borthwick and added power to an England scrum that dominated the  opposition

4 Rusiate Tuima (Exeter Chiefs) – 8
Lots to like about this big guy. Lifts well at the line out and adds real power to the scrum as the tight head lock. Made some good ground in the loose , got a try and also put in some big tackles in defence.

5 Charlie Ewels (capt) (Bath Rugby) – 6
Dominated the line out and remains a quality operator in this area. Led the team with a quiet authority and confirmed his place as one of the many options England have in the boiler room

6 Tom Pearson (Northampton Saints) – 8
Appearing on the wing, winning line  outs and generally being a real problem for the Portuguese team, he is a player who deserves to be given a chance in the senior team and loves a workload

7 Guy Pepper (Newcastle Falcons) – 6
Made more of an impact as the game progressed picking up a trade mark turn over and working hard a real problem in the contact area. Couple of handling mistakes will have annoyed this talented player

8 Alfie Barbeary (Bath Rugby) – 6
Only half a game for the Bath player whose reputation preceded him which meant double tackles on him negated early charges but got his try and worked hard in the close quarter stuff before knee injury.

REPLACEMENTS:

16 Sam Riley (Harlequins) – 6
Got a try as soon as he came on.

17 Tarek Haffar (Northampton Saints) – 5
Added to a strong England scrum performance.

18 Josh Iosefa-Scott (Exeter Chiefs) – 5
The big man was too strong for his opposite number

19 Ben Bamber (Sale Sharks) – 5
Joined an England pack that attacked at will.

20 Greg Fisilau (Exeter Chiefs) – 5
Filled the role vacated by Barbeary confidently.

21 Caolan Englefield (Gloucester Rugby) – 5
Built on the good work of Randall – also lively.

22 Jamie Shillcock (Leicester Tigers) – 5
A try and some conversions made it a happy debut.

23 Oliver Hartley (Saracens) – 5
Added yet more strong running to a rampant England back line.

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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