Oval Talk: England obits on hold

Eurosport - Tue, 22 Jun 14:05:00 2010

What a difference a week makes. Just as Oval Talk was busy preparing obits for the England coaches, Martin Johnson's side produced a performance of real character that points to a much brighter future.

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Of course, one swallow does not make a summer and Johnson, more than anyone, knows that their Sydney heroics will soon be forgotten if England fail to back up their effort against New Zealand Maori and in their autumn international series.

But what the second Test victory did prove was that England do have the players to be genuinely competitive against the southern hemisphere's big three.

Okay, so England's backs still did not look as slick and threatening as their Wallabies counterparts - when have they ever? But on the whole the team played with a pace and intensity (epitomised by outstanding skipper Lewis Moody) that at last reflected a genuine game-plan.

From one to 15 the England players appeared to know what was expected of them, and they played with a freedom that allowed them to take the game to Australia without the fear of making mistakes.

Pundit Stuart Barnes may not be every fan's cup of tea, but for OT he hit the nail on the head when he said - after England had spilled the ball while trying to counter attack - that players should be allowed to take risks and not be admonished when they make the odd mistake.

For too long England have been bogged down by an over-prescriptive approach, so it was refreshing to see them take risks in Sydney - even if they did not always come off.

And they will need no reminder of how difficult a challenge they face against the Maori in Napier; it is a Test match in all but name.

But, and it's a big but, if they do secure another win then the summer series will be considered a real success.

Played five, won three (including a Test win Down Under), drawn one, lost one: Johnson and his coaches would have bitten your hand off for that record ahead of the tour.

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Ben Youngs had a game to remember in Sydney and for his replacement for Napier - Danny Care - holds the key to England's chances against the Maori.

OT is not suggesting that Care needs to score a glorious solo try - though that would be most welcome and certainly not beyond the spritely Harlequin - more that he needs to continue the quick ball that served England so well in the second Test.

Securing possession has never been England's problem; more an inability to deliver it at speed, whether to their backs going wide or forwards looking to make the hard yards.

And too often Care has been a big part of the problem. He has a tendency to wind up his pass or take a couple of sideways steps before getting it away.

Youngs, who has a much snappier delivery, showed the way last week and Care must continue in the same vein if England are to beat the Maori - and if he is to continue challenging for the England shirt.

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Quote of the week: "I never came close to thinking about packing it in. When you're being criticised you just get on with it and get through it. You judge yourself and I'm my harshest critic. My coaches will tell me if I'm doing things wrong and that's the way it should work." England manager Martin Johnson after his side's victory over Australia.

Terence O’RORKE / Eurosport

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