England’s preparation for the upcoming rugby World Cup is beginning to look like a slow-motion car crash, after two pathetic performances against Wales. Those of a betting disposition might want to bung a bit on Argentina muscling England aside when they meet in their first pool encounter on 9 September. The Pumas aren’t world beaters, though they have had a fantastic recent run under new coach Michael Cheika, beating New Zealand, England and Australia. But England are on a seemingly irreversible downward trajectory and are becoming the most unloveable rugby side in the world, lacking any spark, method or much creativity, just a wearying kick-and-chase predictability.
Maybe the coaching team is holding back the real England and will unveil it once the World Cup proper begins: if so, that seems a bit risky. Revealingly, in the interviews after last weekend’s drab and wholly unlikely two-point victory over Wales at HQ, there came from the England camp a certain jolly pride that they had at least started firing in the last 20 minutes or so, whereas from Wales’s coach, Warren Gatland, there was nothing but barely controlled fury that his team had failed to secure the victory they should have cruised.
Meanwhile, if you want to know how to do it, have a look at Scotland’s two exuberant games against France, winning by four points in Edinburgh, then losing by the barest of margins in St Etienne, with both sides happy to move the ball quickly and as often as possible. Both were free-flowing matches enough to restore your faith that at its best rugby can be the greatest spectacle of all, a sport to get the pulse racing, even if the Red Roses aren’t capable of that right now.
Every bit as predictable and depressing as England’s current woes is captain Owen Farrell’s penchant for wild and potentially dangerous illegal tackles, which leave opponents with scrambled brains and the rest of us racking ours.