Much has been made about the performance that England’s rugby team produced against the Australians last weekend. The home side went down 20 – 14 to, until this test, a wobbly Wallabies team in front of a sold out crowd at Twickenham. Perhaps the red (or should I say maroon) flag was in the formalities, with England’s uniform white wash being hijacked by a bottle of shiraz, or in the choir spitting the English anthem out like they were standing on hot coals. But for those who watched the game, you’ll know exactly what the English crux was.
It just simply cannot be put down to anything but penalties – they had such a massive impact on both sides of the scoreboard with England granting the Aussies 13, and 10 vice versa. We can’t ignore the obvious infringements that paralysed the English side and assisted Aussie in getting numbers on the board. First five Berrick Barnes slotted 12 points off the back of English errors, with the majority of the blame being centred on their behaviour around the breakdown.
But it has to be unsympathetically acknowledged that England’s decision making around long-arm penalties cost them a potential nine points. I’m not one to discourage taking the tap and making a go for it when it seems a try is on the cards, especially in the style of an English side who typically kick more than Wayne Rooney – Care’s take in the 39th was a decision well-made and resulted in Manu Tuilagi going over.
But it seems there’s a serious lack of smart decision-making under the pump. Taking these penalty kicks would’ve seen them match, and possibly pass, the Aussies on the scoreboard. Coach Stuart Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw defended the decisions in going with the momentum they had but this match had a lot riding on it – a victory would’ve pushed the home-side into 4th on the IRB rankings, just in time for the 2015 World Cup draw – play it safe and don’t use it as a platform for “maybe” opportunities.
The side to take on the grizzly Springboks on Saturday must stop conceding penalties within kickable margins (best of luck to them against the Boks) and start kicking penalties of their own, if they can do that, then this weekend’s test should see a better, and undoubtedly bruising, outcome.