England response impresses Robshaw

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Published: Sunday 30th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Chris Robshaw believes England’s resilience during a gruelling autumn has proved they posses the mettle to survive the pressure-cooker environment of a home World Cup.

A 26-17 victory over Australia at Twickenham on Saturday salvaged respectability from an otherwise disappointing QBE Series characterised by stagnation with the countdown to next year’s global showpiece now spanning only eight games.

Comprehensive defeats by New Zealand and South Africa on the opening two weekends extended their losing run to five Tests, placing the squad under a cloud that has only been partially lifted with success against Samoa and Australia.

Toppling the Wallabies, who alongside Wales are group rivals at the World Cup, was imperative to stem the flow of criticism and England’s forward power and set-piece dominance delivered an autumn-saving victory.

“Relief” was Robshaw’s reaction to the result and while the captain applauds the tenacity of his team-mates, he knows standards must improve if the hosts are to be a force at their own tournament.

“The pressure hasn’t been a bad thing, it’s just great to see how we have responded to it,” said Robshaw, who was outstanding against Australia.

“Now we know that if it happens again the guys aren’t going to crumble, they are going to stand up to it. They’re going to find ways of winning.

“We all know we didn’t start well – for whatever reason, we’re not quite sure – but beating Australia was a great way to finish the series and that will give us confidence going into the Six Nations.

“If we had lost and looked back over this series having lost three out of four it would have been tough to take, especially being here at Twickenham, and especially with what’s happening next year.

“To get the win was extremely pleasing, but we know it’s not all smelling of roses and there are things to work on and improvements to be made.

“We know that when you get to a World Cup you can’t afford to lose one or two games because then you are packing your bags and watching everyone else on TV.”

Traditional strengths were enlisted to dispatch the Wallabies, who were pulverised at the scrum and throttled out of contention by the tight five, yet were immeasurably brighter in attack.

Centres Matt Toomua and Adam Ashley-Cooper were magnificent, highlighting the limitations of England’s midfield of Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt with their intelligent and incisive play.

The Twelvetrees-Barritt axis is the third partnership in four games and while the rise of George Ford at fly-half is exciting and the emergence of wings Jonny May and Anthony Watson encouraging, the ongoing chaos at 12 and 13 is deeply worrying.

Instead, it has been a pack missing six Test British and Irish Lions to injury that have saved England’s autumn from oblivion with the front and second rows earning special praise from Robshaw.

“We’re extremely pleased with how the front five have gone all through the series. They got us out of trouble on occasions and were able to turn the screw,” the Harlequins flanker said.

“We’ve played some of the best packs in world rugby over the past four weeks and are extremely pleased of how the front five have done us proud.

“You look back at the history of English rugby and we have always had a good pack to go back to.”

England were condemned for their tactical naivety against the All Blacks and Springboks and Robshaw admits they “over-complicated things” early in the campaign.

The gameplan was simplified against Australia, who provided the Red Rose’s first win over major southern hemisphere in a year, and they prospered as a result.

With forwards coach Graham Rowntree drilling a mighty pack worthy of world-class status – at least as a collective – England have the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations to address their threequarter disarray, starting against Wales in Cardiff on February 6.

The temptation to limit their ambition and honour their forward strength must be growing and will only increase if the midfield continues to flounder, but for the moment head coach Stuart Lancaster will prolong the quest for an ‘all-court game’.

Lancaster, who is pleased with England’s ability to handle external pressure and admits he would have chosen a different running order for the autumn, accepts his own share of the blame for the tactical shortcomings evident earlier in the month.

“What I’d like to have at our disposal, like the All Blacks have, is a different strategy for different opposition,” Lancaster said.

“We need to make sure we have all the tools in the box and pick the right tool at the right time.

“Wet weather rugby is part of that in the World Cup and we didn’t play the conditions as well as we could have done against New Zealand and South Africa.

“Against Australia our plan was put to the players, the players applied the plan and we won the game. That’s the most positive thing, whereas in the first two games we deviated a little bit from the plans.

“Perhaps with hindsight I should have been a little bit stronger on making it clear what the plan is.”

Published: Sunday 30th November 2014 by The News Editor

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