Oval Talk

England pay penalty of declining winning formula

England's Flood is tackled Australia's Timani during their international rugby union match at Twickenham Stadium in London

Of the four Tests Stuart Lancaster's England have had against the Southern Hemisphere so far, Saturday's defeat will surely be the most hard to swallow.

The summer series against South Africa, where England lost two and drew one, was a tour to find a few diamonds in the rough and build towards this year's Autumn Internationals and ultimately the 2015 World Cup. The autumn is now upon us and many England fans out there will be less than convinced after Saturday's showing, especially considering that England were "favourites".

The optimists far outweighed the pessimists heading into the Test. Surely the team that got thumped by France and was lacking stalwarts Genia and Pocock among others was going to be a mere warm-up for the Springboks and All Blacks in the coming weeks? Lancaster will now know not to underestimate a wounded Wallaby.

In all areas of the pitch Australia were hungrier, more determined and ultimately showed more creativity. Hooper, Barnes, Cummins and Beale unlocked the England defence and caused more than a few furrowed brows among the Twickenham masses.

At the crux of the defeat is England's decision making in the second half. On four occasions England decided to kick to touch or tap-and-go, instead of taking the more conservative option to keep the scoreboard ticking over three points at a time. 20-14 at full-time does not make pretty viewing after wasting four penalties.

Lancaster has fully supported his side's decision making on the pitch, encouraging the attacking mindset that he is trying to create in his squad. But in the context of this year's Autumn Internationals, which will determine the IRB ranking for the 2015 World Cup draw, surely a more conservative mindset was required from captain Robshaw?

England are fifth in the rankings and likely need wins against South Africa and New Zealand to secure a top four spot and avoid one of the big hitters in the pool stages. England knew the repercussions of a loss to the Australians and now the pressure is on ahead of next weekend's clash against the Springboks.

Scoring tries has never come naturally to England, not like it has to the All Blacks or even Australia in previous years. Applying pressure in the forwards and capitalising with the boot has been a tried and tested method that has helped get England to two World Cup finals in the past decade. On Saturday, kicking opportunities presented themselves, but England chose to go for the tries.

England lacked clarity in their finishing against Fiji, despite what the scoreline suggested. They "left tries out there", as Catt and Rowntree said this week. So when up against a more solid and organised defence, in a more pressurised match, should England have been greedy for points?

The youth of this team and relative inexperience of players is no secret. Factor in that Lancaster still does not know his best XV, that England were not dominating the set-piece and that the backline was struggling to breakdown the Australian blitz defence, and the decisions to not keep the scoreboard ticking look ill-founded. Australia used their heads. When there was an opportunity for points, Barnes stepped up and kicked them over.

In previous years England fans have called for more attacking intent and it's certainly crowd-pleasing (during the match at least) to see an ambitious side looking to turn its back on the kicking tee. But when results are the currency of choice -and they really are at the moment for the top sides with the 2015 draw coming up — taking the riskier option can quickly backfire.

In another year Robshaw's attacking intent would be applauded and it's good to see a coach that backs his players. But over-ambition was costly at Twickenham and now England face a tough two weeks ahead.

IRB World Rankings
Position (last week) Nation Rating
1(1) NEW ZEALAND 92.91
2(2) SOUTH AFRICA 86.05
3(3) AUSTRALIA 85.94
4(4) FRANCE 84.99
5(5) ENGLAND 81.96
6(7) ARGENTINA 79.89
7(8) IRELAND 79.04
8(6) WALES 78.95
9(10) SAMOA 78.79
10(9) SCOTLAND 77.42
11(11) ITALY 76.61
12(12) TONGA 74.51