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Unlike wily Schmidt, Lancaster just can't win the key games

By Neil Francis

In a vexed post-match interview given a good while ago, Big Ron Atkinson said: "I never comment on referees and I'm not going to break a habit of a lifetime for that p**t."

Richard Wigglesworth followed Big Ron's pearl when making comment on three-time Grand Slam captain Will Carling regarding England's failure against Wales.

"They are entitled to do that and are progressing their own careers and I have no interest in anything they have to say because they are not here," said the England scrum-half.

"They are not living it and doing it and I ain't bothered. They annoy me, p*** me off and I am not going to say they don't. I am just indifferent to how ridiculous some of their chat is."

Richard, if you are indifferent to the criticism, how come it annoys and p****s you off so much?

England lost in Twickenham from a commanding position in their own World Cup before an expectant television audience and a fizzing SW17 crowd. What did Wigglesworth expect - love and understanding?

We are in the failure/blame phase in the aftermath of a fairly disastrous loss to an unmentionable foe. From today onwards we enter the forgive-and-forget, onwards-and-upwards phase, which will give way on Saturday morning to jingoistic expectation sugar-coated by an England-expects attitude.

It was so much more than an unthinking decision to go for a low percentage lineout play when the odds called for reason and a shot at goal.

It was definitely the percentage play - more so that the spiritual tide was with Wales. A draw with 77 minutes played and the tide turned would have been a really good result.

The harsh critical response is part and parcel of losing, and when Wigglesworth wins three Grand Slams, captains his country 59 times and gets to a World Cup final he may be able to justifiably refute what Carling has said - because what the former captain said was on the money.

Carling stated England have a "very prescriptive and classroom-orientated environment".

He is absolutely right. Ireland have, to a certain extent, the same environment, except we have real leaders littered all over our starting roster. Leaders who we hope can operate with cold-blooded reasoning if we find ourselves in England's predicament.

You would back Ireland because they have an undisputed collective identity.

England failed last Saturday because their coach is not up to it. Stuart Lancaster has done a half-decent job putting structure back into England after the indiscipline and apathy of the 2011 World Cup.

He has a good win/loss ratio - but you expect that from England. What he has failed to do is win the matches that he really needed to win. The ones that guarantee championships.

It has been painful for them and yet I'm not sure England have learned from some of the pain they've had to endure.

This season, they were well beaten by Ireland at the Aviva but still had the chance to win the Six Nations when they knew exactly what they had to do. To fail in the manner that they did in a madcap game was down to more than just bad luck.

In the battle of inches Joe Schmidt, with greater focus and steely determination, got his side out just ahead at the death. That has happened twice now. A coincidence?

England have won nothing and they lost a crucial game last Saturday because they, like Carling said, operate in a prescriptive environment.

They lose the big games. Lancaster blinked with his selection - he set out not to lose. He showed a lack of conviction. That filters through to team.

He picked defensive players in midfield and it meant his dangerous back three would rely on kick receptions for any attacking opportunities.

Wales are a scrappy, cynical, defensive side that have become incredibly difficult to break down but if you trust yourself and your team then you can find a way around them.

Instead, England made it easier for the Welsh and despite a failed scrum and difficulty at the lineout, Wales competed at the breakdown because England's attack was pretty one-dimensional.

I would like to see England stay in the competition for a variety of reasons - chief amongst them is that it will seriously detract from the spectacle if the hosts are no longer in this great rugby festival.

If Ireland do not win it, I hope England do. They still have a good chance but I suspect they will try and play football against Australia, which might not help their chances.

The Wallabies are a clever side and Michael Cheika is so far ahead of the curve against Lancaster when it comes to winning vital games.

We have had great performances from the Brave Blossoms and the Mighty Oaks. A wilting/blooming Rose depends entirely on Lancaster.

Belfast Telegraph


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