The wheels came off of the chariot last night at Twickenham. Although, if I'm truthful, the optimism that I had for the Men in White was washed away 7 days earlier.
England played 100 minutes (last 20 vs Wales and the whole Australia game) seemingly without guile,lacking strong leadership on and off field or the ability to go to a plan B. The Australia match showed England return to type and just play crash ball, and up against the dynamic duo of Hooper and Pocock, the more rucks you form just give them more chances to jackal the ball.
Too many passengers. Too many people off the pace. Too many 'glory boys'.
Brad Barritt, Sam Burgess and surprisingly, Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw all failed to make a positive impact against either the Welsh, the Aussies or both in a couple of cases. The back row seemed unbalanced, chosen for ballast rather than the skills the positions need and the drop in the famous workrate from Mssrs Robshaw and Wood up against the likes of Hooper, Pocock, Lydiate and Warburton was noticeable. We lacked our own ball winning 7. We lacked a hard running 6. Burgess looks lost all too often. Defensively naive, a tendency to throw a 'League style' big hit rather than a tackle, he wasn't ready for this tournament and the gamble from Lancaster didn't pay off. Barritt is a defensive dynamo. I think the stat was 13 tackles, 0 missed. Impressive. But in the format England play, he detracts from the offence as much as he adds to the defence.
You also have to include the back 3 in the passengers category, although, it's not always their fault. It's so rare they receive good ball in space, their whole on-field purpose is negated.
As for the players off the pace, I think you have to look at 75% of the players. Very few England men have impressed during the pool games, Marler hasn't been his normal self in the loose, Dan Cole too seemed to shrink away from the games. Tom Youngs was one of the few players to come away with credit from the Australia match. Parling, Lawes and Launchbury have all to a degree been carrying knocks or recovering from injuries, Morgan too, Ben Youngs was a major doubt for the Australia game, yet got 60 minutes under his belt. Joseph was another not at the races and if we are being honest, Mike Brown was woeful against Australia, and despite the commentary trying to portion blame elsewhere, if you watch the first two tries back, Brown is out of position for both.
The Glory Boys remark refers to mainly, Watson, Brown, Joseph and lesserly, Barritt and Burgess. 5 players that all to often ignore an open man outside to go themselves, which is great when, as last night, Watson ignored the wide open Tom Wood but managed to make the tryline himself, or as Brown did against Fiji, but when they get caught, we lose the ball and the shot at a try. It was prevalent in the Ireland warm up match how frustrated Jonny May was becoming as he was left in acres of space and was frequently ignored. This didn't change in the tournament. Watson and May can be potent finishers, but the ball never seems to come from midfield! It's a team game. If all we have is crash ball runners followed by people trying to score solo runs, it's not going to work against the bigger sides.
The frustration for me is that inside all of these issues, there are players that could have been in the 31 to solve them. Kvesic is an out and out 7 and should have had more pre tournament game time to prove himself. Maro Itoje or Dave Ewers could have been the dynamic ball carrying 6 to lessen the load on Bill V and Ben Morgan. Kyle Eastmond, Elliot Daly, Luther Burrell, Billy Twelvetrees (who for so long has shouldered the blame for Englands midfield inadequacies, yet they continue, and arguably worsen now he's out the picture!) could all have had a shot in the centers. Even inside the squad, there's Danny Care, Jamie George, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, all players that can change a game, and so far have 0 minutes playing time between them in RWC 15!
This won't make me popular, but the biggest offender in my opinion is Robshaw, let's ignore the kick to the corner debacle against Wales, he'd have been a genius if we got the try!
He has captained England 40 times (I believe) and over the years there has been several occasions where he hasn't been the leader we need. He's often the guy that leads by example, blood and thunder, impeccable workrate.... so what happens when he's off form or being out played? He goes like he did last night, he gets lost in the shuffle and the only time he's noticeable is when he argues with the ref (during Farrells yellow card yesterday, for example). You can't pick a guy solely for leadership qualities. He has to be the nailed on starter. Martin Johnson in 03 for example, had several great locks fighting for his spot, yet I don't recall a single person that wouldn't have picked Johnno as starter and captain. As a Quins fan tweeted yesterday, Robshaw's not even the best 7 at Harlequins. It shouldn't be Owen Farrell pulling the team together behind the posts after conceding a try, it should be the skipper. If he's off form and he's not leading, what is the purpose of him being there?
Of course the leadership also falls on the coaches. A world cup is not the time for experiments, Burgess was Lancasters project and as said previously, wasn't ready and was a flop, the gameplan failed, there was no Plan B, hesitation in using George, who for me is vastly superior to Webber, off of the bench, playing Barritt at 13 instead of Henry Slade, the obvious attempts to try and shoehorn Farrell and Ford into the same line up, it makes it look like you have to be in Lancasters inner circle to get your shot.
The blame will fall on the players, but the gameplan, and trust in management plays a role too. Look at Manu Tuilagi's comments about Lancaster announcing he was dropped from the squad for disciplinary reasons AFTER Manu had told him he'd be out of the squad due to injury. Reading the quotes from Lancaster post game yesterday. 'THEY'LL' be hurting, THEY'VE come up short, THEY'LL be a great side...... surely a coach connected to his team would be saying WE. He's as much a part of the team as anyone else and the buck stops with him. Or maybe it's because he's already said he'd be judged on the results at the RWC and has now said he'll think about his future. Is he already distancing himself from the team?
Lancaster was given a 4 year project to improve on Englands ill-disciplined 2011 World Cup campaign, he has had far more leeway than Martin Johnson was given and the project has failed. Discipline on field hasn't improved. He has made a strong stance with off-field discipline, but the fact is, we have had an even worse tournament than last time out, we've shown no improvement in 6 Nations results, nor have we made strides in Autumn Internationals and Lancaster, whether he's removed from his position or not, he has to be held accountable.