For England this is no time to panic - but
the defeat away to Wales should be a wake-up call for Martin Johnson.
His side looked a shadow of the one which destroyed
Australia last autumn then went on to win their first Six Nations Championship
in eight years.
The 19-9 loss at the Millennium Stadium
might only have been a warm-up match for next month's World Cup in New Zealand,
but England only have one more chance to show what they can do before they
travel out there.
The match against Ireland on August 27 is
one in which Johnson should field his strongest team and replace some of the
deadwood which featured in Cardiff.
Nick Easter and Louis Deacon went missing
in action far too often in the pack. As far as Oval Talk is concerned, James
Haskell should be England's first choice at number eight, replacing Easter - but
Johnson seems to like the latter's experience.
Against Wales, Easter was too far from the
heart of the action. And Deacon, who did not have enough impact in the second row,
knows Tom Croft will come straight back in.
At fly-half Toby Flood made no significant
impression and also went missing at crucial moments. Since the humiliating
defeat to Ireland in the final Six Nations match earlier this year, the
Leicester Tigers number 10 has not been the same player.
And the partnership between Mike Tindall
and Shontayne Hape is not working. They have no cutting edge and for that
reason alone Manu Tuilagi suddenly becomes a first choice. If Chris Ashton was
playing, Tindall would have had more support - but the captain lacked
creativity and leadership.
Which begs the question: who should be the
skipper? OT feels it should be Croft, as he has the character to thrive under pressure;
however it won't happen - Johnson wouldn't be brave enough to make such a
decision this close to a World Cup.
Some people have said England are too
predictable, but that's not the real problem. New Zealand are predictable
because you always know what they're going to do; the trouble there is you cannot
stop it. England, meanwhile, are predictably slow. Their pack was so much stronger
than Wales' in the first half, but they could not deliver quick ball to the
Wales defended well throughout the match
and England's predictable movement saw them fail to create anything beyond the
second phase on too many occasions. England need to be more aggressive and take
advantage of the copious amounts of possession and territory they collect.
If Wales had the same levels of possession
and territory they would beat most teams - so England need to learn how to
maximise what they have. Wales did so when James Hook came on: the Perpignan
star inspired Wales to victory and will be key for Warren Gatland's team in New
Wales have the creativity and England have the
possession. If one of them can learn how to blend the two, they will be a force
to be reckoned with. Otherwise this will be an underwhelming World Cup for both