The 2015 Rugby World Cup is one, that I imagine, many England fans remove from their memory; despite being a tournament with many spectacular moments. Japan beating South Africa, record turnouts/audiences, and saying goodbye to one of the most dominant New Zealand teams in the history of Rugby. For England a World Cup win at home was not to be, struggling through their group and falling short of the knockout stages; it's not a tournament to remember for the roses.
But what happened? Why did it all go so wrong for Lancaster’s men? I thought I would take a look back with the wounds gently healing and see why such a strong England team at home failed to even get out of its own group and become the first host nation to do so.
The Group of Death
To say England’s group was tough would be an understatement, with three of their opponents being ranked in the top ten at the time, it would be no easy task for Lancaster and his men to come out on top.
Whilst Fiji don’t have the greatest record against England they’ve been known to occasionally cause an upset, but with England being at home many thought it would be an easy win and that England should sail pass them... That's not exactly what happened... What I watched, whilst sat at home, was a disjointed England team with no true game-plan or flair, slog it's way past a very mediocre Fiji. The scoreline may not have reflected this as England only pulled away in the last 20 minutes of the game, before that they struggled a large amount to get that scoreline ticking over. The stats themselves don’t show England in a poor light, metres made and defenders beaten are a positive note on what was a lacklustre game, but with 16 turnovers, this is where I was personally drawn to. With Wales and Australia to come, if those numbers were to be repeated then it would be a tough day at the office for England in the upcoming days...
Photo Copyright Credit: The Guardian 2015
Now as we all now England vs Wales always makes for a great, often controversial, match. The rivalry, the talent and the history always promises for a cracking fixture. Now I won’t dive into the game itself, in short England played quite well with Wales battling hard in return despite many injuries. However what ultimately led to England’s downfall was leadership, or lack there of it, and decision making. Having had a ten point lead and failing multiple times to execute at the lineouts when points could have been kicked over, just showed that England as a collective felt like a rudderless ship with no captain and had gotten by due to the raw talent on show. Ultimately it was a game England shouldn’t have lost, but shot themselves in the foot anyway.
Australia now looming and it a must win game... The pressure was on and the team would have been aiming to rectify what had gone wrong the previous week. 33-13 was the final scoreline and if I’m being honest, it sums up the entire campaign of this World Cup. Australia tore apart an already suffering English side and with Bernard Foley putting on a first half masterclass. England had no response with Chris Robshaw's pack being out gunned at the breakdown. It was a game where England had no response and it left me wondering if they had made it through to the quarter finals, whether they would have not been torn apart by another team anyway.
England finished their tournament with a much expected victory over Uruguay but left many England fans with their heads in their hands wondering what might have been. Now the fixtures themselves don’t paint the whole picture; while they dictated the outcome of the tournament some behind the scenes extras impacted a disjointed squad. Firstly from what we heard from the English players, the mentality in the camp wasn’t what you would have expected, with players caring less about working as a team and being told constantly that whatever they did would impact their selection in the squad. This created a negative and very individualised, 'I only care about my performance', feel meaning the chemistry wasn’t there and you could see that from the performances on the pitch. This followed by the absolute hash that was made of burgess’ transition from league and being dropped in far too early to the international stage, lead to an on-paper tough team being picked apart like a tier 3 nation.