It has been a difficult week for me personally as I picked up an injury in last week’s match versus Australia – aggravating a calf strain which had been troubling me a few weeks back.
At the start of the week I was worried about whether I would recover in time to be fit to play against the Springboks. The usual rule is that you have to be fit to train on Thursday to be considered fit to play on Saturday. However, Graham Rowntree told me early in the week that I wasn’t going to be playing even if I was fit in time.
So being injured and not being selected – the worst two setbacks that can befall a rugby player – and I had them both in the same week. You can imagine I wasn’t the cheeriest soul in camp. In the end, my calf hasn’t recovered fast enough and I hope to be fit to start training again on Monday.
As a group of players we feel that we missed an opportunity last week. We were disappointed not to win as we feel we created the opportunities, but weren’t good enough to execute at the critical moments – especially in the last 25 minutes of the game when we put the Australians under a lot of pressure but didn’t see a reward on the scoreboard.
Handling errors at key times let them off the hook and allowed them to clear their lines. Perhaps we should have kicked for goal rather than going for the corner as some have claimed since.
I remember at the time the majority of the 82,000 supporters at Twickenham seemed to approve of Chris Robshaw’s decision to put us in a position to try and win the match. In the end, Thomas Waldrom was literally inches short of the try line and we ended up losing.
I should also mention that the Australians played very well. They were tactically astute in finding the space behind us during a critical 15-minute period, at the start of the second half, where they scored nine points. They then showed real character to defend their six-point lead and hold us out. I feel this group of players has the ability to move to the next level and start to consistently get results against the big three Southern Hemisphere teams.
Going close and being brave losers is not good enough.
Our coach Stuart Lancaster has introduced a few new players for this match and they will have the opportunity to demonstrate what they can do at the highest level. While this is obviously very disappointing for the players who miss out it is probably good for the strength of the team as it builds experience and depth among the squad going forward.
Having played against the Springboks three times in the summer we know what to expect.
They will play a simple and direct match based on physicality – big men running hard – and a strong set piece. They will also compete hard, and commit numbers to the breakdown, with the Bath flanker Francois Louw being a particular threat. We need to match their physicality, stopping their big runners, notably Wilhelm Alberts and Jean de Villiers, on the gainline and make them try to go to a plan B.
As always, in attack it is vital we are effective at the breakdown and generate quick ball to play with. We showed in the summer when we play on the front foot we created a lot of opportunities and caused them problems.
Another dangerous part of their game is the rolling maul. Last Saturday, Scotland, on a couple of occasions, tried to combat this by disengaging entirely in order to claim a penalty. As it proved, it’s a risky tactic and one which we are unlikely to adopt against them.
We are determined to bounce back from the disappointments of last Saturday and justify the faith of our supporters and reward them with a victory.
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