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RWC: England not too badly placed

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OK, so England beat Fiji on muscle-memory, as predicted.  But overall, I’m more optimistic than I would have expected to be at this stage.  Partly, that’s because England have a history of building rather uncertainly to the KO stages (2007 etc, and even including 2003): but mainly because, notwithstanding 2019, South Africa isn’t a bogey team for England, whereas Ireland would have been.  Let me explain.

In a given period of time, most teams seem to have a semi-irrational bogey.  For years, France couldn’t get past England in any competition whatsoever.  Australia often seem to freeze against England.  And Ireland have lately done the job on England.  I don’t think that would have come to an end this coming Saturday, had Ireland prevailed against the Boks.

What’s more, I reckon England would also fancy New Zealand rather than France … but let’s not, *ahem*, get ahead of ourselves.  So – back to Fiji: what did we witness?

Farrell:  for about 10 minutes towards the end, Farrell more-or-less earned his pay – at long last.  (Right up until his crazy knock-on right near the end, which might easily have seen him in the bin at the very death.)  That’s a pretty thin return on the many years of undeserved England pay he’s drawn.  We’ll never know whether Ford + a different captain could have done the same job over that 10 minutes: but then again, the alternative combo might well have closed Fiji down even earlier.  Counterfactuals are like that.  So I’m unrepentant: Farrell shouldn’t have played.

Smith:  well, he didn’t pick himself at 15, and he gave it everything he’d got.  But, as they say, a good big’un …  Anyhow, it’s irrelevant now; and tomorrow, Steward it will rightfully be.

Tuilagi:  we’ve all heard the tired old saying, uttered continually over more than a decade – “if Manu’s fit, he’s in“.  Well, by some miracle he’s managed to stay fit.  But how many more times is it deemed satisfactory that he storms into a match and grabs a dynamic early try, then fades into the background?  If that’s his MO, take him off after 30 minutes. 

Lawes:  how many more times can he be expected to go to the well and draw performances like that?  Unless he has truly superhuman powers of recovery, I don’t like to imagine the shape he’ll be in after Saturday – whatever duties might be sought of him beyond that point.

Earl:  speaking of super-human …



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