28 February 2006
ENGLAND will have to look at their defeat against Scotland as part of a very tough learning curve on the road to the 2007 World Cup. Most people would have expected them to come away from Murrayfield with a win but they didn't achieve it and now have to take on France away from home. That will be another tough game and whoever wins it will probably end up as RBS 6 Nations champions.
So do England make changes after being beaten at Murrayfield? Do they go back to a set-piece dominated game or move further away from it? You can argue that there are question marks over a couple of players and the balance of the back-row as a unit, but I don't expect Andy Robinson to make many changes. The Grand Slam may be over but it's important now to think about France in two weeks time as well as France in 18 months time. A win in Paris would restore a lot of confidence.
I hope England will emerge stronger from their experience in Edinburgh. It's exactly this sort of game that you've got to learn to win from when you're three or six points down and have that experience to use in the future. If that means kicking into the corners and putting pressure on until the other side gives way, then that's what you've got to do.
Given the pack of forwards selected, England might have kept to the set-pieces a bit more and kicked for lots of lineouts. We lacked a bit of ball carrying power without Matt Stevens, which makes it less easy to play an expansive game, so maybe in some ways we were too ambitious against Scotland.
Learning how to chase and win games when you're behind requires different approaches too. If you look at England against Australia in 2002, we were three tries down and had to chuck the ball about. But when you're three or six points down you don't have to chase with that urgency. That's when you have to keep it tight, keep the other side under pressure and make them play out of their own half.
It's tempting to run the ball from deep but it can be quite easy to defend against because the tacklers can tear up in defence and contest for the ball. When you start from inside their half, they have to be more conservative because they will worry about giving away easy points from penalties.
There are always key moments that can turn tight games too. Away from home in 2003 it took time to break down Ireland before Matt Dawson caught Peter Stringer with the ball, Lawrence Dallaglio got away to score before half-time and we went from there. Similarly, you could argue that the World Cup final might have been a completely different game if Ben Kay had scored rather than lost the ball in the corner. Or if we had played for territory and squeezed Australia more at the start of that second half.
The key moments certainly turned against England at Murrayfield when Lewis Moody was held up on the line and Ben Cohen spilled what should have been a scoring pass. You have to feel sorry for Ben, though, who did well in the first two games and hadn't seen a lot of the ball until it came to him then. But when you've got into those positions and that happens you do start wondering if it's not your day and it makes the game hard to win
Trevor Woodman was talking to Simon Mills, exclusively on RFU.com