England must give fringe players chance to shine in Six Nations clash with Italy, says Stuart Barnes
Stuart Barnes says England should think 'long term' and make personnel changes for their clash with Italy.
Last Updated: 27/02/13 5:29pm
The scrum was a struggle and the breakdown was often a battle; France put them on the back foot which resulted in England often having to withdraw to deeper positions from where attack became difficult.
The good aspect of the game was that they understood that this was not the day to force the running rugby.
Owen Farrell was far from dominant but kept his cool and the ship in just about the right shape until Toby Flood came from the bench and added an edge to guarantee the win. The bench was full of impact.
Flood's emergence and influence was matched by Danny Care and surpassed by the excellent front row contribution of Tom Youngs and Marika Vunipola. Most important of all was the sense of poise.
Even at half time, a point behind, England exuded an aura of belief - well, I certainly believed they always had the look of winners.
But with the performance level slipping a little, changes should occur for the Italy match. England will beat Italy at Twickenham and with plenty to spare. Stuart Lancaster can have one eye on development even as he moves towards a Cardiff collision.
Care deserves a start which is not the same as saying Ben Youngs should be dropped for the Welsh game. England must utilise their squad and keep the contest for places sharp.
I would not start with Flood as Farrell will be fly-half in Cardiff and after an indifferent performance he could do with a boost pre the Grand Slam game.
Brad Barritt was again influential but leave him out and see what the longer future may have in store with a combination of Billy Twelvetrees passing game inside Manu Tuilagi. Barritt deserves a break and the Gloucester man another start before Barritt braces himself for the Welsh storm.
Lancaster does have one serious selection issue: Chris Ashton is playing himself out of the team. Had he been in form I would have loved to see Christian Wade blooded against Italy - I still would - but if Ashton is to be axed Lancaster will sensibly opt for the preferred option on right wing.
David Strettle is favourite although against the power of Wales' wide men Ben Foden would be my choice - if he can give Lancaster a reason to think he is back to form.
Up front Courtney Lawes was an unhappy blindside experiment while Vunipola was dynamite off the bench. For the moment the manager might keep him there, although he might just be tempted to give him a start.
This reads like a call for wholesale changes but it is anything but that; England have a squad not 15 starters and a few hangers on and Lancaster has to trust that squad which means playing them. He can do that at home to Italy and find his best team for the Grand Slam game AND develop the side for the future.
That is the art of good selection.
It is not an art possessed with the French national team and the capacity to win from the bench is another weakness of theirs. The French press seemed pleased with a 10-point loss and improved performance from their opening efforts. That tells you how far and fast France have fallen.
As they fall their conquerors, Wales, stealthily rise with another successful trip to the continent. The conditions were awful in Rome but the Welsh pack was excellent with the press we have seen from their garlanded front row in a while. Like the Titanic and the iceberg, they and England are inexorably on collision course.
First of all Wales head to Edinburgh where Scotland have won two games including a first win at home to Ireland in six Six Nations attempts. Such are the facts but how is quite another issue.
Scotland had barely a quarter of possession or territory. They defended well but Ireland kicked badly and blew first half chances which would have put them in a powerful position to go and do what they usually do and win in Edinburgh.
Declan Kidney will feel the wrath of the Irish press after this defeat, yet a year ago England played worse than Ireland did in Edinburgh but nicked the win simply because Farrell kicked the goals that Paddy Jackson did not. Had England lost Stuart Lancaster would have been friendless.
That is why it is important to think performance as well as result when making longer term judgements. There does come a time when too many defeats overrides any other factor but generally when a team keeps losing it is because they are not very good.
Scotland are looking at a third straight win when Wales visit but they will have to improve. Scott Johnson was level headed post match and summed up the need for the quality of performance to be lifted if they are to beat Wales. Leigh Halfpenny will not leave as many points behind as Jackson did. Ireland will need a performance and win to hold the Kidney bashers at bay.
It was far from a great weekend of Six Nations action but it is never less than fascinating. So too was the Premiership. Saracens made quite a statement at Leicester although the absence of key players on both sides must be noted.
Worcester, meanwhile, were hammered by a wrong decision by David Rose. When Jonny May was tripped up there was a possibility of scoring a try but with Paul Hodgson sprinting across in his usual style it was not 'probable' in a million years and for a penalty try to be awarded the score must be 'probable'. Gloucester might still have won with a successful penalty kick but for Worcester to lose it without Gloucester 'winning' it is plain wrong.
London Irish benefitted as a result, especially with the other relegation candidates losing, while Northampton and Gloucester were the winners at the top end of the table as Wasps offered a callow effort in Reading... and, meanwhile, Wales and England move slowly towards one another.
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Hi Stuart, After watching the England v France game yesterday, It is interesting that no English commentator sees fit to comment on the cheap shot by Owen Farrell on Parra. I agree Parra went down Italian soccer style, but earlier in the game, for some reason he decides to push the French full-back, because he didn't get to him sooner. I'm sure the English management couldn't care less, but I'm interested to hear your views. By the way, I felt Cian Healy's stamp on Dan Cole was a disgrace. John Peeters
STUART REPLIES: John, cheap shot is about right and it is an annoying part of Owen Farrell's game. But it is also a part of what makes him a good player; he is fiercely competitive and in this age of open palmed pushing and shoving will never learn a lesson as we older half backs inevitably did. (That's a good thing, Farrell's constant barging around is not.)
IN WITH THE NEW?
What, if any, changes should England make for their next Six Nations clash against Italy? Should some of the back-up players such as David Strettle, Danny Care and Toby Flood get a chance or is it unwise to tinker too much? Gareth Charles
STUART REPLIES: I would like to see Marika Vunipola, Danny Care, James Haskell and Billy Twelvetrees start. I would like to see Chris Ashton omitted. His form has reached that certain point. Who plays wing is a big call; Strettle is playing well for his club but as with Ugo Monye in the autumn I am not certain whether he should be given another chance. A fit and in form Ben Foden would be the man I would want to see in Cardiff. As for the other changes, Barritt would definitely start in Cardiff, as well as Youngs and Haskell but Italy is a chance for Lancaster to think ahead to both Cardiff and beyond. Vunipola has been a tremendous impact sub and I would be reluctant to take him from that role but maybe we should see what impact he can make from the kick off.
Hi Stuart, Sam Warburton looks unlikely to break back into the Wales starting XV for their clash with Scotland and maybe even their match with England, but surely remains the best candidate for the Lions to go toe to toe with David Pocock on the fast and hard grounds of Australia? I'm a massive Robshaw fan but can't help thinking his influence may wane if Australia move the ball quickly and keep it away from contact? Chris Everton
STUART REPLIES: Chris, I hear you loud and clear but unless Warburton proves his form his 2011 World Cup efforts are simply too far in the past with worries outweighing the hopes. Tipuric would have to go ahead of him as would Sean O' Brien - who do a breakdown job - and the maligned Robshaw who I will continue to defend against critics who keep knocking him for a weakness that is supposed not evident.
Hi Stuart, Christian Wade has been in awesome form for Wasps of late - do you think he is ready for the step up to international rugby? I'd love to see him on the biggest stage. Lou Anderson
STUART REPLIES: Lou, yes, I forgot Wade from the England question. I would play him against Italy to accelerate his development before putting him back in wrappers for a match in Cardiff which would come too soon for him. He is a magnificent finisher but Cardiff might be a game too early for his positional play. A definite for the Argentina tour - that is if Warren Gatland doesn't take him as a midweek player who would score countless tries against weaker opposition on the front foot (doubt that will happen but it's an outside bet).