LONDON, ENGLAND- With the QBE Autumn International Series done and dusted for another year, it’s time to check in and see who made out well, and who will be ruing missed chances. RugbyWrapUp has your winners and losers for the English national team. First, we’ll start with the good news…
Dylan Hartley: Probably the most unambiguous “winner” of the series for England, Hartley impressed in all three matches that he played. Following his red card in the Aviva Premiership Final in May, it looked as though the Northampton captain’s international career was on life support. Immensely to his credit, he put his head down, played some great rugby, and now seems to have the starting hooker position locked down heading into the Six Nations. Having Courtney Lawes run the lineout seemed to help his set piece, and the Saints duo combined reasonably well together.
Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury: It’s not every duo that can keep a British and Irish Lions starter on the bench and not have supporters in an uproar. Lawes and Launchbury continually impressed with their work both in the tight and the loose, and played an integral role in an England scrum that looks increasingly solid. Launchbury nabbed his first two international tries, a great (though slightly fortuitous) turn for the young lock. In addition, he went from struggling in the domestic league to starring on the international stage, ensuring that it won’t ever be easy for Stuart Lancaster to overlook the Wasps lock.
Owen Farrell: The divisiveness that Farrell inspires has always been mystifying to me. On days that he is off, he can be truly woeful, but those are generally few and far between. Against New Zealand last year, and again this year, he demonstrated that he can raise his game for the big opponents. The first half of the Argentina match also demonstrated that he does have the capacity to succeed as an attacking fly-half, and isn’t just a kicking wonderboy. Critics also forget that the man is only just past his 22nd birthday, and he figures to keep improving over the next two years. A solid series for Farrell that cemented his grip upon the starting role.
Chris Robshaw: Robshaw had a series to remember, quieting his critics decisively with an all-around display which included the astonishing workrate which has become his trademark. While the lasting image of the New Zealand loss will be his magnificent shiner, fans would be better served by remembering that the captain inspired a team down 17-3 inside 20 minutes into a magnificent fight back. There are two schools of thought concerning the New Zealand match. The first feels that England never should have fallen so far behind in the first place, and a loss is a loss. The second credits the effort of the team, and recognizes that they played with the “best side in history” for the better part of 70 minutes in adverse circumstances. Robshaw has what it takes to remain England captain for a long, long time to come.
Sir Clive Woodward: I am hesitant to waste column inches upon the blowhard, but it needs to be said: Sir Clive needs to be quiet and go away. His outbursts in the Daily Mail were unprofessional and unbecoming of a World Cup winning manager. Furthermore, many of his claims seemed wrongheaded. This week, he wrote that Stuart Lancaster needed to ditch the talk of “pride in the English shirt” and claimed that it had never been an issue while he was playing and coaching. Hard to believe that he could forget the debacle of 2011 so soon. If anything, Lancaster’s strength has been restoring belief to a side that was sorely lacking at the start of the 2012 Six Nations, and the battling display against New Zealand does great credit to his “corporate” approach. Ridiculous and embarrassing stuff from a man who should know better.
Joel Tomkins: It will likely be some time before we see Joel Tomkins in an England shirt again. The Saracens centre did nothing to impress throughout the series, and seemed to lack the quality in attack required of an outside centre. His failures emphasized England’s unfortunate reliance upon Manu Tuilangi, and it is hard not to think that England needs someone with more panache if they are to seriously challenge Wales in the Six Nations.
Tom Youngs: Maybe it was the fatigue of a season that never truly ended for Youngs, but he looked at the end of his rope throughout the series. Lineouts have always been an issue for the young Leicester man, but never have they so distracted from his play in the loose. He seemed to have difficulty connecting with Lawes against Australia, and had a couple of shocking mistakes against the All Blacks. Though he, like most of England’s squad, is young in both years and international experience, Youngs will be hoping to make an impression off the bench during the Six Nations to win back his starting spot.
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