Six Nations 2013: Lessons learned as England keep Grand Slam hopes alive
Six Nations 2013: What lessons did we learn as England scraped to an unconvincing 8-11 victory over Italy at Twickenham?
Italy raise their game
Italy have never won at Twickenham and many expected them to be cannon-fodder in a warm-up match for the Six Nations title decider against Wales next weekend. However, the Italians were inspired by their talismanic captain Sergio Parisse, who was available after his ban was reduced, and they resembled the team that beat France rather than the side that meekly surrendered against Scotland and Wales. The performances of full-back Andrea Masi, fly-half Luciano Orquera, wing Luke McLean and the Italian pack aided the No8 but they were helped by the fact England played so poorly. They took advantage of a poor kick by Danny Care to score a wonderfully opportunistic try and looked the most likely to score at the end of the game but unfortunately ran out of time. But the question remains do the Italians play better when they are expected to lose or do they simply just raise their games for the bigger occasions? If they are to progress as an international side they need to become more consistent as they clearly have the ability to upset the bigger nations.
England’s changes disrupt their rhythm
Head coach Stuart Lancaster made five changes to the England line-up with one eye on next weekend’s crucial clash against Wales. Prior to the game he stated he chose not to make more as he didn’t want to halt the momentum of the team but changing one third of his starting XV caused more than enough disruption. The changing of the half-backs with Danny Care and Toby Flood, coming in for Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell, perhaps had the biggest effect on the English performance. Neither kicked well out of hand, with Flood missing a touch on a number of occasions from penalties and Care’s poor box kick gifted the Italian’s a try. It’s a shame that Care’s kicking isn’t better as he probably offers more than Youngs when the ball is in hand but in crucial situations when you need to clear the ball the Leicester man just edges him. Similarly, the attacking swagger of England completely deserted them as they butchered two clear-scoring opportunities with awkward passing and poor decisions. They must perform better as a team offensively next week if they want to complete the Grand Slam.
The importance of Parling
Much like centre Brad Barritt, second row and leader of the line out Geoff Parling goes about his work in a very understated way. Usually it’s his partner in the engine room that gains the headlines, whether it be Joe Launchbury for his meteoric rise or Courtney Lawes for his monstrous hits However, throughout this tournament he has been in great form, tackling and carrying well and contributing to a strong line-out. His importance to the side was further highlighted when he went off injured in second half with a shoulder injury and England’s lineout fell apart. England failed to control their lineout and secure clean ball, most notably in the minutes after Parling’s departure. Tom Wood failed to provide Care with a clean lay-off and as a result the fly-half’s haste to clear contributed to a sliced clearance that allowed Italy to go and score. Without Parling marshalling the line out, England looked lost and his importance and leadership at the line out was sorely missed. England will hope his injury is nothing more than a stinger and that he will be available for the Wales game.
England give Wales nothing to worry about
If England were looking to put down a marker against Italy and serve notice of their championship credentials, they miserably failed. The Red Rose laboured to victory with all the points coming from Flood’s boot and there is a very real danger that if they lose by seven points next weekend, then they will finish second as Wales have scored more tries so far. They never looked comfortable going forward or scoring. Winger Chris Ashton has come in for criticism in recent weeks but he was never given an opportunity to run into space as England failed to move the ball wide. The Red Rose appeared to miss full-back Ben Foden, who provides an attacking threat from deep, with effective strike running and his presence also seems to bring the best out of Ashton too. The current incumbent of the full-back shirt Alex Goode has played well but doesn’t have the same attacking threat as he has a much more reserved mentality and never looks likely to create something from nothing which is what Foden can offer. Goode will probably keep his place next weekend but England must begin to offer more going forward if they are to beat Wales in front of their own fans next weekend.