Austin Healey: Lancaster selections a big risk for England against Wales
With reports suggesting Jonathan Joseph could be out for three weeks England have rung the changes against Wales and some are a big worry.
I said last week that any injury to Joseph would be a massive blow and now he’s gone the problems are clear to see and you have to question why Lancaster is going with both Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt.
You have to pick players that complement each other and these two just don’t or so it would seem.
Burgess needs someone who can run lines off him and pick holes, someone like Jack Nowell or Henry Slade.
I think England should have gone with one of Burgess or Barritt at inside centre not both but I understand why.
This is a stats-based decision. The coaching staff have looked back through all of Wales’ recent games looking at first phase gainline success. When positive Wales win, when less so they lose.
What Lancaster is banking on is that Warren Gatland hasn’t got a plan B. So stop Jamie Roberts with the big hitting Owen Farrell, Burgess and Barritt and England go on to win a tight game
By dropping George Ford, England have left out the best attacking option showing they have little or no interest in playing any rugby against the Welsh – they are going to crash the ball and try to stop Wales defensively.
Having said that Ford got carried in some tackles for two metres and that is the difference between him and Farrell defensively. And this is where the decision was made.
Wales adopt a simple but effective strategy, with Jamie Roberts crashing the ball up at 12 they then get around the corner and play with pace. It’s not pretty but it works and Lancaster obviously wants to stop Roberts dead with Burgess and Farrell.
That should work and we’ve seen in the Six Nations that when that happens Wales don’t really have a plan B.
However, while that solves ones problem it also hampers your own attacking play and the selections don’t stack up. If you want to do that why not play Burgess, Nowell and Ford and stand Ford at 13 defensively off the first phase?
Bringing in a whole new unit at this stage looks a big risk to me but that’s Lancaster’s job and he’ll live or die by those decisions.
For some the inclusion of Farrell is an odd choice too. I do like to play along with the banter that he gets picked by his dad over his Weetabix in the morning but you’d like to think there’s too much professionalism in the England set-up for their relationship to have any bearing on his selection.
He’s an uncompromising player who brings a stern nature and can offer stability. He’s also played some good attacking rugby in seasons gone by, so we shouldn’t take that away from him, but he hasn’t played a lot of rugby in the last 12 months, which at number 10 can mean you can lack rhythm.
I think it’s good to have him on the bench but if I was in charge I wouldn’t be picking him to start.
It looks as though the plan is to stop Wales for 60 minutes and then maybe bring on some flair but that suggests to me that England are chasing the game and I think they should make their opponents chase them.
This selection really levels the odds up on this match and I would like to have seen a much more attacking side.
I agree with Burgess’ inclusion and think he may have got in anyway, as he showed his carrying ability when he came on against Fiji, but it looks like being an aerial battle against Wales and I don’t think we’ll see many tries.
Having said that England v Wales at Twickenham in the World Cup is about as big as it gets and I’m really looking forward to the game. It’s the only time I’ve ever bought a ticket so I’m hoping for a thriller.
Fiji performance down to opening game jitters
I think England suffered from first game jitters against Fiji. It wasn’t the performance they were looking for but they got the win and the bonus point – albeit in the last play of the game – and that’s all that matters.
I don’t think there’s a need to over-analyse games in the World Cup as the most important thing is to win your matches and they did that. Fiji defended well but that was only because England played a lateral game going from side to side.
In the second half England were more direct and took control of the game so they should have done that from the outset.
They went into the game thinking their pace and tempo would carry them through but that’s the wrong attitude. You have to beat teams physically at the tackle line. Then you can up the pace. You have to earn the right to go wide and that was no more evident than on Friday night.
My tips for the big game
George North would be my pick for first try scorer at 9/1 and I think England will win but not by more than seven points.
With that in mind the 10/11 on Wales +9 looks the best selection in the Handicap market and I’d be tempted to back England to win by 6-10 points at 9/2.
Japan’s famous win shows how much they have improved
They may have lost their second game against Scotland but without doubt the biggest story of the World Cup so far is Japan’s famous win over South Africa.
For everyone outside of the Japan squad and coaching staff that probably has to go down as the biggest shock in sporting history, certainly the biggest in rugby.
The last big shock of that magnitude I can remember is when Waterloo beat Bath in the Pilkington Cup. That was another massive shock but again only for everyone outside the team as we actually believed we could win that game.
Japan’s achievement eclipses that though and they have obviously been training very hard and look supremely fit. The intensity they kept up against the Springboks was immense and they are clearly a dramatically-improved side.
Can South Africa bounce back? Well, if you think back to 2007 when England lost 36-0 to the Boks and then ended up in the final it shows that strange things can and do happen at World Cups.
However, the South Africans’ style of play didn’t look great against Japan and they weren’t that competitive pace wise.
I’m not sure if Schalk Burger is still the payer he once was and they have a lot of younger guys they could utilise instead. They have a lot of experience but they are starting to look old.
I didn’t have them down as contenders before the tournament and having seen the performance against the Cherry Blossoms I still don’t.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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