World Cup Preview: England

Group B Opposition: Argentina, Scotland, Georgia and Romania

Pedigree: Plenty of it.  Indeed, England are the great World Cup overachievers.  Nobody is better than they at gritting their teeth and finding a way to the final, no matter how awfully they are playing.  The memory is hazy, but I believe they won the cup in 2003.

Player to watch: Much depends on whippersnapper scrum half Ben Youngs.  He was dynamite in the autumn against Australia, when he set the tempo and unleashed the English backs at speed.  But two shockers in the Palindrome in the spring have raised questions about his ability to play on the back foot.  He is coming in to the World Cup on the back of injury and a delayed preseason.  Can he get his spark back? If Johnno gives Manu Tuilagi a run-out in August and he seizes his chance, England’s atttacking play could be transformed. The young lad isn’t quite yet the successor to Bod, but he is dynamic and exciting – just ask Barnesy.

Good Tournament: England expects and all that.  They will be looking to make the final, though a semi-final would be a pass mark for a young side.

Bad Tournament: If they bow out in the quarters or before, it will be considered a disappointing showing.

Prospects: This is a more talented, and better coached, squad than the one which somehow turned themselves around and made the 2007 final.  Looking through the side, there are plenty of reasons for the rose-clad chariot swingers to be cheerful.  Any England tight five will always be dogged and resilient, and the return of Matt Stevens augments an already strong front row.  Much (too much?) is expected of Courtney Lawes, and the backrow will be nicely balanced, with Lewis Moody and Nick Easter accompanied by one of the Toms Croft and Wood.

At half-back they’ve the youthful vigour of Youngs and Flood and outside them they’ve running threats in Chris Ashton (a contender for the top tryscorer of the tournament) and high-class full-back Ben Foden.

It’s a young side, and they have the look of a team enjoying themselves.  They’re playing a more attractive brand of rugby than has been seen from an English side in who knows how long, and they are the Six Nations champions.  But, as always with England, this leads to over-confidence.  In the spring, following wins against Wales and Italy, we had an explosion of media hyperbole.  England were primed to win the World Cup! They had destroyed the twin powers of Wales and Italy!  Swing Low! Expectations were checked after the defeat in Dublin, but we all know that once England get off to a winning start against Argentina, the media hubbub will begin again.
Besides the hype, there is also the material weakness in midfield.  Shontayne Hape has yet to show he is an international 12, and Mike Tindall will always be Mike Tindall, even if he spends his pre-season becoming Mr Ugly Royal Bird. What a pity Matthew Tait and Olly Barkley have been so poorly treated.  But if Johnson takes a risk, and gives Manu Tuilagi a chance to wreak havoc, things could get interesting.
Verdict: Should have enough to top the group, and they usually have France’s number, so a semi-final is very achievable.  Probably a top midfield away from being a finalist.

Moments of the Season Part 1

In keeping with the end of season theme, we’re going to take a look at our favourite moments of the season.  First, Egg Chaser takes us through his, tomorrow Palla Ovale follows suit.

Chris Ashton’s length of the field try against Australia. Australia, fresh from beating the All Blacks in a remarkable game of running rugby, landed in Twickers in November. Its fair to say WoC probably weren’t the only ones expecting the Wallabies to be the only team playing fast and loose, but in an incredible match, they were beaten at their own game.There had been flutterings of something happening for England in Australia in June, but the anthracite-clad red rose announced itself this day, with the highlight Ashton’s try. It established Ashton as a star, and signposted a gloriously unexpected positive attitude, the type of which we had not seen in an English team since 1990.



The best two teams in Europe collide. Coming to Lansdowne Road for the final game of the 6 Nations, England needed a win to complete a first Grand Slam since 2003, when it was also finished off (in style) in Dublin. Less than a minute into the game came the first scrum, something Dylan Hartley was clearly relishing, judging by the way he shoo-ed away the physio. Cue Mike Ross mincing the England scrum, a quick tap penalty by Sexton, Banahan’s outside shoulder exposed by Earls, and 80 metres gained by Ireland. The English platform had been decimated, and Ireland never looked likely to lose afterwards.

Reality dawns on the Northern Hemisphere. Following the rather dowdy and generally low-quality Six Nations, the Crusaders and the Sharks came to Twickers as refugees from the Christchurch earthquake. To stunned Northern Hemisphere fans made comfortable by the likes of Mad Dog Jones deriding the Super XV as basketball, this was a serious shock to the system. The players here seemed to be playing a different sport to that which “graced” Murrayfield and the Millennium Stadium. Not only did we see wonderful running lines and a series of deft and intelligent offloads by Daniel Carter and Sonny Bill Williams, we witnessed a display of powerful scrummaging from the Crusaders and ferocious rucking. Simply incredible.

Clement Poitrenaud not scoring against Clermont. If any passage of play symbolised French rugby over the last decade, it’s this one. Indeed, if any player symbolises French rugby over the past decade, it’s Clement Poitrenaud – a man who mixes the sublime with the ridiculous, sometimes within seconds of one another – just like here. Toulouse covered 105 metres in just six marauding phases, a mesmeric series of play full of offloads, line breaks and runners flooding the support channels, all in a visceral and powerful lunge at Clermont’s throat. Poitrenaud touched the ball 3 times in this magical 45 seconds, once to draw in 2 tacklers to a prop, again in a brilliant half-break to commit 2 more men before offloading to Servat, and the third time to drop the ball when all he needed to do was fall over to make this the try of the century. Which almost made it better.

Cordite Awards 2010-11

So, with Toulouse winning the Bouclier de Brennus, the Northern Hemisphere season proper ground to a halt on Saturday night.  However, we’ll still be busy in the off-season, so stay with us over the coming weeks.  We’ll be having a look at Ireland’s World Cup squad options, taking a very long view of the Lions Tour in 2013, and later in the summer, looking at the other teams involved in the World Cup, all the while keeping an eye on goings on down under in the none-too-straightforward Super 15.

But to cap off a memorable season, here are the inaugural Cordite Awards.  Take it away, boys:
Davy Tweed award for International Diplomacy: Chris Ashton. After the November series, it seemed like England had put together a team and a style which was likeable to the neutral. Luckily, Chris Ashton’s increasingly tiresome series of swallow dives against second rate teams restored the status quo of bitterness and resentment from the Celts.
Jason Robinson award for inter-code relations: Shontayne Hape. Never again will right-thinking union fans consider it a good thing that a rugby league player is considering a code switch. Shontayne’s selfless work to denigrate the lesser code is appreciated by all.
Captain Cook award for appreciation of Pacific culture: Stuart Barnes. Barnesy has numerous entries here, mostly for his uncontainable excitement at Manu Tuilagi’s tackling technique but this reached his apogee when Manu unleashed his frustration at not winning the Davy Tweed award on the likeable young scamp Chris Ashton in the AP playoffs.
Jules Winfield award for nutritious snacks: Paddy Wallace. Belfast man Paddy sat on the Ireland bench for around 397 minutes of the 6 Nations, spending the other 3 as a blood sub for Dorce. The word is he makes a seriously mean half-time orange. I mean, why else would he be there, its not like the incumbent Ireland 12 was playing like a drain or anything.

Arsene Wenger award for false hope: Danny Cipriani. After bursting on to the scene for the Melbourne Rebels with a series of eye-catching performances, and one fantastic individual try, Danny Cipriani’s season descended into disciplinary issues, conflict with management, and ultimate disappointment. WoC is a huge fan, but maybe Johnno was right all along.
Brendan Venter award for Whinging about the Ref: Gerry Thornley.  It didn’t matter who was reffing or playing this year, if an Irish team lost, the erstwhile Gerry found a way to blame the ref. Pearson and Poite got the worst of it, usually for daring to penalise the Munster forwards in a European game. WoC contacted Gerry once this season, and got the frenzied response that Pearson had asked Wilko for his autograph at full-time. Hmmmmmmm.

Niccolo Machiavelli award for political scheming: Frankie Sheahan. Commentating on RTE on a nondescript ML game just before the 6 Nations, Frankie awarded the MotM to his client (and WoC favourite), David Wallace. Wally himself was clearly bemused during the presentation, probably because he did not break sweat and came off after 50 minutes. WoC is sure it had nothing to do with the fact that Wally was fighting with Sean O’Brien for the Ireland 7 shirt the following week.

Frankie Sheahan award for neutrality: Stephen Jones. We were going to give the entire Irish press corps this award for confidently predicting Ireland would easily dispatch the Springboks without breaking sweat in November, but then we saw the Stephen Jones 2013 Lions team. A Henson-Roberts centre partnership might be more convincing if either of them 1. had played recently, or 2. were actually any good.
Warren Gatland award for trash-talking: Neil Best. The Worcester Warrior wasn’t Deccie-bashing on his own behalf, but for Roger Wilson and James Downey, who were no doubt delighted that such a renowned statesman as Besty was batting on their behalf. Wilson must have particularly appreciated this gem from Neil: “I look at the Ireland back-row and think you need to be world-class to get in there”

The Tana Umaga Award for Failing to Ground the Ball: Graham Kitchener.  Toulouse’s Caucau being too fat to bend over and ground the ball properly was one thing, but it wasn’t that important in the end. So the prize goes to Worcester’s Graham Kitchener who ran in for a try 5 minutes from time in the playoff semi-final, with Worcester still needing the conversion to take the lead, celebrated, and then knocked-on.  He looked a broken man afterwards.

The Stephen Jones Award for Bizarre Punditry: Jeremy Guscott.  At the Sunday Times’ chummy roundtable discussion before the Six Nations the subject of young Scottish lock Richie Gray came up.  All were agreed that he looked a prospect.  All, that is, except for Jeremy Guscott, who said ‘he looks like he’s running through quicksand’.  It made little sense then, and absolutely none after the tournament finished, and Gray was pencilled in by most as the 2013 Lions Test 2nd row.

The George H W Bush ‘No More Taxes’ Award for About Face: George Hook.  Serial winner of this award George Hook triumphs again on several counts, chief among them his assertion after the Scotland game that Jonny Sexton shouldn’t play for Ireland until after the World Cup.  Post-HEC Final, Hooky is calling for Sexton to be captain.  He’s not prone to hysteria, is our George.