England Rugby Getting Stronger, Slowly But Surely

James MortimerAnalyst IMarch 24, 2009

LONDON - NOVEMBER 22: A general view ahead of the Investec Challenge match between England and South Africa at Twickenham on November 22, 2008 in London, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

If you had muttered to Martin Johnson at the beginning of the tournament that his team would finish runners up in the Six Nations, and as the leading try scorers, he would have taken it.


Throw into that the best points for and against, and hence differential, had they managed to overcome but a solitary point loss to Ireland, and it would not be Guinness that was being drained at no doubt record levels around the bars of the north.


Quite simply, even considering the capabilities of nations such as Ireland and Wales, England is a country that should catch the notice of the world’s powers now.  Surely when a Tri Nations colossus arrives in Twickenham next, one would think that there will be no record thrashings on offer.


Naturally, one does not want to get to excited.  But one feels that we shall only see an upward path from this England team.  England is not France, not a team prone to varied misdirection.  The 2003 World Champions have not begun to touch the summit that they have seen more than once, but the portents certainly are there.


Many people, incorrectly, credit Clive Woodward for creating one of the great England teams we have ever seen—which the 2003 World Cup winning vintage certainly was.


A team that has won 35 Five/Six Nations titles (10 of them shared), more triple crowns and grand slams that any other nation; has a history and a tradition that Johnson would do well to remind his men.


But Woodward and Jack Rowell before him did compile formidable records between them.  In a ten year period they won the European title every second year and lost only 30 matches.


So essentially, the expectations of this proud country and their fans are of a standard where belief expects more than the 28 losses suffered since 2004, and no silverware.


It shows the current mindset of this team when celebrations were so high after winning the Calcutta Cup, which England used to win playing with one arm (with greatest respect to Scotland).


Two wins to finish the season against Scotland and France, after thrashing Italy early in the tournament.  Two losses, to last year’s Grand Slammers, and this year’s edition of champions. 

Both were games where it was but ill discipline and luck that cost the red rose of England success.


The old heads of England appear capable, with even the harshest critic of Simon Borthwick would have duly noted how he has lifted his captaincy and presence in the last fortnight.


How much better he is when he just performs his duties as a hard lock forward.


In Mike Tindall, Joe Worsley and grizzled veterans like Phil Vickery and Andrew Sheridan, there is still the power from the old guard to complement the new talent.   Still, the average age of this England team pushes 30.  Half of their current forwards are over 30, with the likes of Simon Shaw and Julian White are now 35.


It is the new wave on players, who each week seem to be responding with more fluency to “attack coach” Brian Smith’s tutelage, that is showing that this could be an England team with more offensive venom than even their illustrious predecessors.


Spearheaded by inside centre Riki Flutey and full back Delon Armitage, England showed the necessary creativity and attacking verve that is needed by a team to break the tightest of international defensive systems.  Both whom could likely be upstart Lions hosts if they can perform strongly at domestic level.


While their tournament was sound, it is unlikely that there will be a heavy tinge of white to the touring British Lions campaign, which may benefit England in the long term.


They will play a match against the Pumas in June, before hosting at least one of the SANZAR teams at the autumn internationals.  The end of year matches will be crucial for England, with just over 12 months to go from there to a World Cup tilt.


The only question mark now really only remains at the crucial fly half spot, with many still believing that neither Andy Goode or Toby Flood are long term options. 


But, with the grafting being achieved by the pack, and plenty of attacking menace present in the three quarter line, further investment needs to be continued as well as the ushering of the next generation of players. 


While England’s depth was not tested, one feels that there are not quite enough players knocking loudly on the first team selection door.


England: Played five, won three, lost two (points for 124, points against 70)


England 35 - 11 Italy

Wales 23 – 15 England

Ireland 14 – 13 England

England 34 – 10 France

England 26 – 12 Scotland


Tries scored: 16 (best in competition)

Tries conceded: 5 (second best)


Upcoming for England:


Guinness Premiership Round 19

EDF Energy Cup Semi finals


6th June – England V Argentina


Likely English Lions?


Guaranteed: Joe Worsley,


Probable’s: Mike Tindall, Delon Armitage, Simon Borthwick, Riki Flutey, Tom Croft, Mark Cueto