A year before the World Cup the big talking point involves England, this may seem myopic. however, as the host nation England need to have a good World Cup it is vital for the games development and without doubt the greatest opportunity since 2003 to bring rugby into the public eye. In other words displace football as the main sport in public consciousness for a brief period.
England had two games against the two best teams in the world on successive weekends and unfortunately did not look like beating either New Zealand or South Africa. The excuses will be myriad injuries, illness lack of game time. That does not disguise the fact that Stuart Lancaster has failed to progress the side dramatically. He was handed a blank sheet of paper. Martin Johnson had struggled to get rid of his some of his ex team mates and move the side on, or in other words capitalise on the huge playing resource England have. Lancaster could do as he pleased.
Lancaster came in and had a good six nations, Ireland won it but England received the plaudits for gaining purpose and direction. A tour to New Zealand followed. A New Zealand tour is the toughest of all tours. England returned with minor credit. Autumn was meant to be the moment they kicked on and beat New Zealand and South Africa. This has not happened, England have looked slow ponderous and lacking direction. I have never been a fan of Danny Care I have always felt that his delivery has been slow and predictable. Even worse Owen Farrell is not looking like a world class fly half. Compare Farrell's performance today to Sexton's last week and you see the gulf in class. England have strong yeoman like forwards and backs with pace to burn but if your pivot is not working you will not win rugby matches.
England have two major problems that I am not sure can fixed. They concede too many tries, the great England side of 2003 were miserly in giving away points. The other major issue if the lack of decision makers. Over the past two weeks, time after time chances have gone begging because players are making the wrong decisions at key times.
A good six nations is now vital, whether this will be possible it is hard to say because both Ireland and Scotland are starting to find structure and pattern. France also look like they are coming into form with a magnificent win over Australia. Wales are an enigma during autumn but will no doubt be back in form for the February assault on the grand slam.
The game in England needs a boost. Unfortunately much of the good work done after 2003 has lost its momentum and the game has started to revert to its rugger bugger reputation. This means blazers running a game for hooray Henry's in the shires who drink too much and take their clothes off in public. This reputation is not helped by the sexist antics of clubs like the LSE and the boorish behaviour of a section of the crowd at Twickenham on Saturday against South Africa against the openly homosexual Nigel Owens. England Rugby need to show that the game is inclusive and progressive which is why a successful World Cup is important and Stuart Lancaster is running out of time to get it right!Suggest a correction