Inside the Tigers’ Den - Flawed England and Lancaster exit Rugby World Cup
So it’s all over for England - out of the Rugby World Cup after just 16 days of the of competition.
The headlines and records are ugly - England’s worst performance at a World Cup, the first ever hosts to be out of the competition before the knockout stages.
Leicester’s England trio of Ben and Tom Youngs, along with prop Dan Cole all started for the national side as they were well beaten, 33-13, by an impressive display from Australia, who are looking like one of the form sides in the tournament and must now be one of the favourites to win it.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster’s job lies in the balance as the wolves have began to circle and with more media voices than ever, mine included, he will be hard pressed to stay on.
It’s easy to criticise now England are out but Lancaster has made some strange choices this tournament.
His decision to bench George Ford, one of the most exciting fly-halves in world rugby, after one game, the only one they won as well, having gone the last 12 months with him as first choice was bizarre. It’s as if Lancaster was caught in the headlights and reverted back to his natural instincts of playing a less expansive, risk averse game.
Owen Farrell to his credit has been superb but he offers one tenth of the attacking threat Ford does.
Lancaster also made some bold but bonkers selections in midfield. Henry Slade was brilliant in his debut against France in the World Cup warm up game - so good Lancaster selected him for the tournament but he hasn’t picked him since; you imagine because he fears he doesn’t have enough experience in these must win high pressure matches. He doesn’t. But why select someone you’re not going to play. Bonkers.
Then comes Sam Burgess. The rugby league convert was beginning to look like a decent back row for Bath come the end of the club season but Lancaster wanted him as a centre and selected him there despite his lack of experience. So far he has failed to live up to the billing and was rushed into the side too quickly.
All across the pitch there are selection decisions coming back to haunt Lancaster. Where were his game changers when he needed them? Well most of them were in their arm chairs at home or in a pub watching like the rest of the population.
Former Oakham School pupil Alex Goode got the nod as back-up full back but again hasn’t featured - beating Sales’ Danny Cipriani to a place in the 31-man squad, despite Cipriani proving every time he pulled on an England shirt that he could change the momentum of a game and score.
Danny Care, the liveliest of livewire scrum halves in England, perhaps after Wasps’ Joe Simpson, made the squad but hasn’t featured yet either. Instead conservative, see the game out Richard Wigglesworth has played.
Dylan Hartley, love him or hate him, has also been missed.
His accurate line-out throwing and willingness to get down to business in the trenches could of come in real handy for England.
Finally the age old debate about whether Lancaster should have invoked the ‘special circumstances’ clause and called-up Toulon’s Steffon Armitage argument has reared its head after Tom Wood and skipper Chris Robshaw were played off the park by the dynamic duo of David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
It’s an area England need to look at because the current crop of flankers don’t cut it at the highest level and there is not an abundance of English based players coming through to challenge them from the Premiership.
But no one will be hurting more than the players and we can only hope they go away and lick their wounds and come back stronger.
This team had too few caps and too few leaders to ever be serious World Cup contenders, perhaps 2019 in Japan will be their year. But they need to start winning silverware before that.
Most had more hope than belief that England could go far in the competition. Under Lancaster England have never looked like they could string seven consecutive wins together, there was little to suggest they would be able to do it seven weekends on the trot, with injuries mounting as the opposition increase in quality.
It’s looking like there will only be one Tiger left in competition come the knockout stages and that is Argentina prop Marcos Ayerza.
The Pumas beat an impressive Tonga side 45-16 at Leicester City’s King Power stadium on Sunday.
In a brilliantly enthralling match, the first to be played in Leicester, both sides attacked with real enterprise and skill.
Ayerza even got carried away for a moment, forgetting he was prop having broken the line and galloping into clear space, he threw one of the most forward passes you will see at this world cup.
Tonga pushed Argentina hard for the first half and scored a sensational try through former Northampton Saints prop Soane Tonga’uiha, created by some stunning off-loading. However in the second half Argentina turned on the class with Nicolas Sanchez putting on a masterclass from fly-half on his way to a 25 point haul.
Each Puma try was joyously celebrated by footballing legend Diego Maradona who was in the crowd.
For all the criticism of Welford Road not hosting Rugby World Cup games the King Power stadium makes an excellent rugby ground.
Leicester’s summer signing Opeti Fonua came on for Tonga in the second half. However he looks to be one of many players who will be reporting back to Tigers sooner rather than later, as Tonga are now unlikely to progress.
Argentina face Namibia at the King Power on Sunday needing a win to guarantee their place in the quarterfinals, with either Ireland or France their opponents at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Tonga finish against New Zealand, who will be looking to perform at the top of their game after a poor day at the office in their 41-18 win over Georgia.
Tigers hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini did not play in Italy’s 16-9 loss to Ireland on Sunday. He is suffering from a thigh injury. His accurate lineout throwing was missed by the Azzurri as well.
Michele Rizzo was on the bench for Italy and came on to play the last 18 minutes.
On Thursday Tigers’ back Niki Goneva scored as Fiji ran Wales close, losing 23-13.
However an evil draw by the competition organisers sees Fiji out of the competition along with England in Pool A, having taken on three of the world’s top 10 sides.
Back at Welford Road Leicester gave their youngsters, a smattering of first teamers, a run out against Loughborough University on Saturday and their neighbours from up the A6 gave them a good run, leading 12-10 at half time. But after the break Matt Smith, Ben White, Sam Yawayawa, Christian Loamanu and Paolo Odogwu crossed, to add to Wesley Douglas and George Worth’s first half tries to deliver a 43-12 victory.
Tigers play Sale on Saturday in the final Kings of the North fixture before starting their league campaign away at London Irish.