Inside the Tigers’ Den - England’s World Cup on a knife edge
England are teetering on the brink of elimination from their own tournament and Leicester’s trio of players were in the thick of the action, for good and for bad.
England squandered a 10 point lead with 22 minutes remaining to lose 28-25 to Wales at Twickenham on Saturday in one of the most remarkable comeback wins between the two rugby warring nations.
For all the controversy about England coach Stuart Lancaster’s selection of Owen Farrell, ahead of George Ford at fly half, and Sam Burgess at centre, neither man proved to be a liability. In fact both men did rather well. Farrell fully justified his selected with a perfect kicking performance and an exceptional defensive shift. Burgess was solid if unspectacular, only getting caught out once in defence.
Things started going wrong for England when Ben Youngs left the pitch.
Scrum half Youngs was at his brilliant best on Saturday, buzzing around the pitch and terrifying the Welsh defence with his snipes around the edge of the ruck.
Youngs made eight runs for 62 metres, the fourth best for England, making two clean breaks and beating three defenders.
He was an attacking dynamo for 48 minutes until the second he limped off and was replaced by Richard Wigglesworth.
Wigglesworth then made two critical mistakes. First not getting to the kick through from Lloyd Williams which was expertly regathered by Gareth Davies off his bootlaces for the try.
But for all of England’s short-comings it was a miraculous score from Wales who just don’t know when they are beaten.
No one can deny the Welsh are a multi-skilled rugby playing nation and the kick to set up a try from a scrum half, playing on the wing because of injuries, just proves it.
England captain Chris Robshaw has received a slating for his decision to kick for the corner when Farrell had a chance to level the game with less than three minutes remaining.
It was brave and probably in hindsight wrong, but it was only wrong because England failed to execute the lineout and driving maul properly.
The same critics who are bashing Robshaw were waxing lyrical about the bravery of Japan a week earlier when they went for the corner to set up a famous win over South Africa.
The difference was Japan threw the ball to the back of the line-out, trusting their skill-set under immense pressure.
Tom Youngs had an excellent game for England but was watching on the sidelines as Rob Webber threw to the front and the England pack where shunted into touch. Chance gone.
But England had another opportunity to attack from a line-out inside the Welsh 22 with a minute left, this time Wigglesworth knocked on for his second big mistake. Chance gone....again.
But in truth none of those moments actually lost the game, they just failed to win it. What lost it for England was their indiscipline, mainly at the breakdown.
England never got to grips with referee Jerome Garces’ interpretation of the breakdown, conceding 12 penalties in all.
Leicester prop Dan Cole was one of those penalised while trying to steal the ball.
Robshaw and Lancaster’s failure to understand what was going on at the breakdown and change their game accordingly was more costly than selection decisions or kicking for the corner. Dan Biggar was outstanding for Wales, kicking 23 points to break the record points scored by a Welshman in a single game against the English.
Even at amateur level a good captain would instruct his players to stop competing within range of the sticks with such a deadly fly half on the pitch.
The only good new is England are incredibly lucky that their fate remains in own hands in the Pool of Death, Pool A. They must beat Uruguay by at least as many as Australia (65-3) and Wales (54-9) and beat the Wallabies in the final match of the competition if they are to progress.
Wales have it far harder. They have been decimated by injury, losing first Jonathan Davies, then Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb before the start of the tournament, Cory Allen pulled a hamstring in the opening game and now Liam Williams (concussion), Scott Williams (knee) and Hallam Amos (shoulder) are all doubts. The remaining Welshmen must beat Fiji and Australia to guarantee their place in the next round. It’s some ask and history is not on their side as Australia have beaten the Welsh in their last 10 matches, enjoying a winning run dating back to November 2008 when they lost 21-18.
England have their own injury worries with Billy Vunipola, Ben Morgan, Courtney Lawes, Jonathan Joseph and Ben Youngs fighting against time to be ready for the Wallabies on Saturday night, kick-off 8pm.
Youngs is said to be given a 60/40 chance of making the game. On Saturday’s evidence England need him.
Lancaster said: “We’ve got to move on very, very quickly to the next game, Australia, because if we beat them we are absolutely back in the game. Wales have to play Fiji - a tough game for Wales - and then Australia. We are definitely not out of this.”
Back in Tigers country, or rather up in Falcons land, Leicester beat Newcastle 30-28 on Friday to record back-to-back victories in the Kings of the North tournament.
Harry Thacker scored the pick of the Tigers’ tries as, Seremaia Bai, Riccardo Brugnara and Freddie Burns also crossed the whitewash.
It means there is all to play for when Sale visit Welford Road on October 10.