Chris Rattue: England are light years away from living up to the hype

New Zealand Herald columnist says England side got what they deserved in Dublin

England’s Jack Nowell and Elliott Daly stand dejected after their Six Nations defeat to Ireland in Dublin. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

England’s Jack Nowell and Elliott Daly stand dejected after their Six Nations defeat to Ireland in Dublin. Photo: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Chris Rattue’s article in the New Zealand Herald dismissing England as a long way from what they are billed to be has caused a bit of a stir in the rugby world. Here is the article in full.

Oh dear. Rugby revolution over. Back to square one for England, poor dears.

Dear England. What on earth were you up to on the training ground last week?

Eddie Jones’ mob were back to their clunky habits in defeat against Ireland, their Six Nations campaign involving one mildly impressive scoreline against Scotland, where rugby is about as popular as Brexit.

The phoney war is also over, thank goodness, with New Zealand and England completing an 18-all draw in the consecutive victory category.

I mean no disrespect to the England team, who can only play to their limited skill capacity. But the maelstrom of accolades for such a stilted team, considering the extent of New Zealand’s dominance for a long time and the rise of Ireland as classy challengers, has been insulting. The hoopla has been ridiculous.

The unseemly rugby super power clamour to add a New Zealand-England test to the 2017 season should also come to a shuddering halt – there was no genuine point to it, and even less so now. It was a fanciful sugar rush which has been nailed by the bitter truth about Jones and his overrated team.

England – with one victory in the last 15 tests against New Zealand – are light years away from living up to the hype. England aren’t even the second best team in the world, despite what the primitive ranking system claims. Ireland, under the astute coaching of Joe Schmidt, deserve that respect.

You only had to watch the one man Hurricane Ardie Savea ripping the Highlanders apart to know that the All Blacks’ future is in great hands. There has never been an England forward who could play like that. It’s not England’s fault, but it is the truth.

England made a sow’s ear out of an imaginary silk purse in Dublin, and the men in white looked dazed at the end.

White is a great colour to wear for muscle-bound rugby people who want to look menacing. But it also looks a bit cringey when things go wrong. England were wrecking balls in chains. A lot of them looked like overstuffed plastic shopping bags in desperate need of a trolley.

England under Jones aren’t much different to England under every other coach they’ve had. On a good day - and I will long remember their outstanding 2003 victory in Wellington as one of the finest test match performances ever - they are a beast, but those occasions are few and far between against skilled opponents.

Dublin was a magnificent rugby occasion, again, with the crowd in stirring form as Six Nations crowds always are. The Home Countries and France will never overtake New Zealand in rugby quality, where a unique cultural and gene pool mix, and national obsession, produces extraordinary results almost all of the time. But the northerners beat New Zealand hands down when it comes to atmosphere and occasion.

What the northern rugby mob might not understand is that in order to be super good at test rugby, you can’t really enjoy it. You only have to hear Grant Fox agonising over rugby detail, or an Eden Park crowd agonising over a World Cup final, to know that. Rugby is such an impossible game to play well that it must be a crusade to do so. Just doing a lot of weightlifting doesn’t cut it.

But the European crowds and magnificent stadiums are brilliant, and can turn battering ram-ball into epic battles. It’s just as well when, with everything on the line, the supposed second best team in the world doesn’t come close to scoring a try as history allegedly beckons.

Milky white England froze against Irish cream. As almost always happens to England under pressure, they lose the ability to pass the ball smartly. When the heat goes on, they display more shovels than Mitre 10.

Even their lineouts unravelled. They were only at their most fluid when spotting a chance to hit Ireland’s great No. 10 Johnny Sexton with late and high tackles, a tactic out of the rugby stone age. Come on Eddie. Surely you had more to offer than that.

Last week’s victory over Scotland was a false read, which added to the false read. The massive Twickenham victory whipped up the premature triumphalism which inevitably brings England down.

While their union was insulting the Barbarians in order to issue a November challenge to New Zealand, it looked as though Jones and his men were reading the wrong papers.

And what about those rankings? Schmidt’s Ireland deserve to be recognised as the second best team in the world, not England. Ireland play the game with verve and guile and it is they who have mounted the best challenge to the undisputed champs.

England are still in a cave, and they will drag Jones into the recesses before he ever encourages them out into the light.

This article orginally appeared in The New Zealand Herald on Sunday March 19th.

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