Martin Johnson and the Autumn From Hell: England's November Reviewed
So the month of November has been and gone, and we have learnt a great deal about the Johnson era for England Rugby. What lies beyond into the RBS Six Nations, and even further beyond that leading up to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011?
Martin Johnson's reign as England Rugby manager started strongly with victory against the Pacific Islanders, and a comfortable one at that, but defeats to the big three in world rugby (Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) showed the total gulf in class that we are facing ahead of us.
There were positives to come out, namely the performances of the England back three. Debutant Delon Armitage was by far and away the best player throughout the four games, and deserved his accolade as Investec Man of the Series from an England perspective. Harlequins' Ugo Monye and Wasps' Paul Sackey also showed moments of brilliance both in attack and in defence.
In attack, the free flowing rugby that we had all been promised by the England set-up showed in glimpses, but when the opportunities arose in games, they still reverted back to type, and utilised the "pick and drive" option time after time. England fans were promised a lot, but have not had it delivered in full just yet.
The signs are there that progress is being made, but there are still lingering thoughts of is this really the right way to go. The biggest disappointment has to be Danny Cipriani. He showed nothing that dispelled the title of most over-rated player yet to deliver on the big stage.
Mistakes against the Pacific Islanders, Australia and South Africa ultimately cost him his place for the final game against New Zealand. His replacement, Leicester Tigers' Toby Flood, showed some of the form that he has been showing on a consistent basis for his club side.
Most importantly, what of the formidable England pack? The crux of England's domination over recent years. Under the leadership of captain Steve Borthwick, England looked less like the dominating force of former times, but more like a bunch of pussy cats that were begging for mercy.
Teams have realised what our strengths are, and are focusing everything on trying to disrupt our scrums, and England being the ill-disciplined side that we now are (apparently), we have fallen into the trap and allowed ourselves to be effectively bullied into submission.
The Six Nations programme begins at home to Italy on February 7 2009, and it is only then that we will really see exactly what the future for England rugby is....until then, we just have to sit back and trust the system in place...Patience is of a virtue, but England rugby fans aren't the most patient!
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