England’s heartbreaking final few minutes semi-final defeat to South Africa, was probably their best outing since the last World Cup semi-final.
After England’s group game victory over Japan, former England player now BBC pundit matt Dawson said it was the best England had been under Steve Borthwick. This, I believe, was the lowest bar ever set in professional sport.
For the last four years, first under Eddie Jones then his protege Borthwick, England have been dire. A reaction to that stuffing from South Africa in the final of the last World Cup, they seem to go out with a game plan of just aimlessly kicking the ball away, coughing up turnovers, giving away penalties and generally being slow in thought and deed.
It looked like Borthwick was keeping this up with his bizarre selections and tactics but then when everyone thought they were gonna be on the end of a real stuffing against the reigning World Champions. They put in an effort that’s just been totally missing for years.
They played on the front foot. Weren’t hanging about slowly having the ball taken away from them at the breakdown. Not giving away so many stupid penalties. And kicking from hand with chasers not only having a chance but actually taking those chances. Freddie Steward and Jonny May. How many times did may tap a ball back he had no right to be near, never mind win?
The scrum was standing up. The lineout was winning SA ball. They were stopping SA mauls. It really was an England we hadn’t seen in four years. SA were making changes in the first half.
Farrell was knocking the kicks over and not letting the clock tick down. They were keeping their head above the tide. Almost throughout the game I kept saying they needed to drop some goals. You know Farrell can do it, and it keeps the opposition guessing and can open channels. I was banging on about it yet again when Farrell knocked one over from deep 8 minutes after the break.
Unfortunately that was the last of the 15 points they scored and they didn’t get in the position again to use the drop goal, either to score or go for a try. It was 15-6 at this point. And that nice relaxed evening of rugby was nothing but. When you expect them to be stuffed and don’t put up much hope it’s an easier watch than when they put in this type of performance but just don’t get that gap on the scoreboard.
Yes, it’s two scores but two scores can come in the blink of an eye. First they gave up the try then with a couple of minutes to go they gave up the fateful penalty. It’s funny, earlier in the game the ref said the SA hooker was on his knee but he just let play go on, but when Genge goes on his knee the whistle goes.
But the ref had taken against England with the introduction of their subs. He was fine with Marler and Cole but seem to immediately take against Sinckler who could do no right in the scrums as England went from holding their own to being on the end of what we all thought would happen.
All round the changes Borthwick made seem to more change the game in SA’s favour. Were they changes for changes sake. Oh, they’ve made their subs we have to counter? Did Mitchell really need to be replaced? Though, thank god he didn’t bring on flouncy George Ford until the game was pretty much up. So much better when he didn’t feature.
Anyway, still don’t think Borthwick is up for the job, how much of that game was down to him, how much down to players not wanting to be embarrassed. The players knowing what the public thought would happen and doing their damnedest to make sure it didn’t. Which they did… just didn’t get their rewards.