LONDON, ENGLAND – If there is such a thing as a “disappointing” win following five consecutive losses, England secured one during their 28-9 victory over Samoa on Saturday. An insipid offensive effort saw England head into the half ahead 13-6, and though they scored two tries after the break, it was not a confidence inspiring effort from the men in red.
Things started poorly, and the match was so boring in the early going that a wave started in the 16th minute. Rightly seen as a sign of frustration with the product on the field, the appearance of “the wave” at Twickenham was a sign to the England team that they were not fulfilling their obligation to entertain against an unquestionably inferior side. Tusi Pisi led off the scoring for Samoa with a 3rd minute penalty, but George Ford replied without trouble in the 17th, and Samoa never seriously threatened again. Jonny May found the try zone in the 19th minute, courtesy of his extraordinary speed. May took a great line and cut straight through the center of Samoa’s defense and briefly sparked the match to life. The rest of the half would play out largely without incident, though Pisi and Ford traded two more penalties to send England into the half 7 points ahead.
Ford played decently throughout, but was hardly the world-beater the press has made him out to be in the past few days. Indeed, much of the praise seems to stem from antipathy towards Owen Farrell, who did not have his best outing at inside center. Continuous handling errors blighted the first half, and Farrell made some poor decisions, rendering it unlikely that the Ford-Farrell axis will be repeated in the Test arena any time soon. Mike Brown also endured a mixed afternoon, butchering another try scoring chance, but behaving securely under the high ball throughout the match.
England put the game beyond doubt early in the second half, and appeared to have finally found an attacking rhythm. Ford found a perfectly placed cross-field kick to Anthony Watson, who unselfishly put Mike Brown over for England’s second try of the match. In the 51st minute, Johnny Leota was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle, though it was a very soft yellow card. England dispatched the ensuing opportunity, taking full advantage of their extra man out wide by putting Jonny May in the corner for his second try of the match. For a few minutes, it looked like England might put their foot on the accelerator and prove their critics wrong. However, the match petered out to a poor conclusion, and neither side scored after the 52nd minute. Samoa actually controlled possession, with 58 percent of possession and territory. Despite England’s troubles with ball in hand, their defense was hugely impressive throughout the night. Samoa is renowned for their creative, attacking rugby, and even with such a large amount of possession, the islanders never seriously threatened the try line.
Captain Chris Robshaw put in a gigantic shift on the flank, putting in 22 tackles. England’s set piece was also rock solid, with the English scrum winning all seven of their own feeds, while stealing two out of eight from Samoa. The lineout continued to function well with Rob Webber at hooker, with 18 successful lineouts compared to one lost. However, open play was another story. England conceded an astonishing 14 penalties and 13 turnovers from open play however, numbers that must come down next week against Australia.
Overall, this was a below-par performance from most of England’s team. Australia upped their game this weekend against Ireland, and if this autumn is to be anything other than a disaster, England must hang a convincing win on the Wallabies. Only 9 matches remain before the World Cup begins, and as everyone is keen to remind Lancaster and his charges, time is rapidly running out.