England must find new level of intensity
June 17, 2014
It is time for Dylan Hartley to start © Getty Images
It is a sign of just how far England have come that I sat there in the aftermath of their one-point loss to the All Blacks on Saturday and felt disappointed. Disappointed because this was an opportunity which escaped England.
On Saturday England, for the first time in a while, were outmuscled. They lost the gainline which is not something we have associated with this crop of players. While England go into the contact area with one man up, the All Blacks latch on and drive through. It is so effective and forms a huge part of their game.
There was also a first for me, errors in defence. Their rush defence, under the superb Andy Farrell, has been something which they pride themselves on. But while they did the first bit right - forcing the All Blacks to the wing and making them cut inside - they then fell off tackles. You simply cannot do that against the All Blacks.
The Kiwis are a team who have not got many weaknesses in their ranks. I think England could get at Aaron Cruden a little more and they can definitely bully them up front, but now it comes down to the players themselves. I truly believe England have it in them to beat New Zealand on Saturday but it depends how much the individuals want it.
What needs to happen is for the English players to find a new level of intensity in themselves. Rugby's a team sport, it's about the team but when you segment it, it is still selfish.
Whenever I played, I always wanted to put in a performance. Though it is a team sport, it still comes down to the individual. It's no different to working in a business, it's always about the bigger picture, the team, but you have to perform to your maximum ability to achieve the victory.
If you can find that level, everyone else follows. That's a mindset of mine, it's not arrogance, it's about setting standards. England now have to find that and they are capable, in my mind, of taking their game to the next level. They have the quality, it is just a question of belief.
The series may be gone, but there is still so much to be achieved in Hamilton. I look back to the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour. We were 2-0 down going to Johannesburg but the win there in Ellis Park was huge for me on a personal level and even though we had lost overall to the Boks, we could go back with our heads held high knowing we got a victory on foreign soil.
England should be aiming for nothing less on Saturday and for that match I'd love to see Dylan Hartley and Billy Vunipola back in the pack. It is no slight on how Rob Webber and Ben Morgan have done but Hartley and Vunipola made good impacts from the bench in Dunedin and should be given the chance to start from the outset.
The same goes for Courtney Lawes who should get the chance alongside Geoff Parling. I am a huge fan of Joe Launchbury and will champion him until the cows come home but with the series gone, Lancaster should see how Lawes and Parling operate together. The opportunities before the World Cup are decreasing by the Test.
I also think Manu Tuilagi should go back into the centres. As an opposition coach, when you sit down and plan how to play England, you would be far more worried about him at outside centre than you would on the wing. If he is moved back into the centres, then Chris Ashton deserves a chance on the flank.
What England have done over the last three years is remarkable. It used to be a case that when you came to New Zealand, you were happy to keep the match under 50 points. That's not the case anymore. But for the odd error here and the odd error there, we could be sitting here talking about England being 2-0 up in the series.
What they have learnt over the past two Tests will stand them in good stead for a year's time at the World Cup. You can get away with drifting in and out of matches at Six Nations level but not against the big three.
England have done enough over the past two games to ensure the rest of the world has sat up and taken notice of them. When was the last time we said that? Probably 2003, that's how much improvement they have made. The perfect ending will be a win on Saturday and if England reach an 80-minute performance, they will achieve it.
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