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Sunday, October 10, 1999 Published at 20:08 GMT 21:08 UK

England's defeat: The real reasons

Jeremy Guscott: Incapable at the highest level?

BBC rugby union presenter John Inverdale says England's inability to look like scoring is one of the reasons for their All Blacks defeat - Jeremy Guscott is another.

Forget Jonah. Forget the odd quibble about one or two refereeing decisions that could have gone either way anyway.

There were no fundamental reasons why England should find themselves facing an Everest-like task in reaching the World Cup final now.

Martin Johnson's helpful few words with the referee which cost England a wholly unnecessary penalty before half-time, just decorated a lacklustre performance.

Fundamentally it was Andrew Mehrtens' control of the game from outside-half, in contrast with Jonny Wilkinson's patchy performance that enabled the All Blacks to virtually guarantee themselves a place in Cardiff on 6 November.

And even more significantly than that, it was England's inability to break the gain line, and actually look like scoring.

Top-line players

When Lawrence Dallalglio is your most potent attacking weapon, whether around the fringes, or when joining in a three-quarter movement, you know there are one or two problems outside.

And that essentially, is where Clive Woodward must be losing some sleep.

[ image: Jonny Wilkinson: Bad day at the office]
Jonny Wilkinson: Bad day at the office
A late evening taxi ride back from a World Cup function a few days ago with Dick Best, one of England's back selectors, highlighted the problems that everyone involved with the national side currently face.

What options are open to those given the responsibility of picking an England back-line.

How many top-line players are there wearing 10.12 or 13 in the Allied Dunbar Premiership?

Jonny Wilkinson is a director of affairs, an imperious kicker when on form a pivot around whom dynamic and direct runners can feed.

He is not a gap-creator or gap-taker, and outside him, Phil de Glanville, who in general had an excellent game, and Jerry Guscott, are not the sort of players that will terrorise opposition defences.


Guscott's constant kicking away possession, even though one led to a try, was a testimony to a player who doesn't believe he can ghost or skirt through the opposition anymore.

[ image: Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back have that dejected look about them]
Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back have that dejected look about them
The imperious centre among centres will scythe through lesser defences still, but not the best of the best.

Dan Luger is England's finest attacking option, but he made few forays into the middle, and Austin Healey and Matt Perry are not Umaga and Wilson.

It was an absorbing contest, won by a supreme sporting moment that everyone who was there will remember for the rest of their rugby lives.

But try and write down the number of occasions you thought England were really going to score a try.

From looking potential winners the week before, everyone concerned only knows too well how tough the final group match against Tonga is going to be.

A three-quarter fit Will Greenwood is essential to give the backs the cutting edge in midfield, and perhaps Nick Beal on the wing is an alternative to Healey.

Sadly these days, size is all, and the Tongans will not be backwards in coming forwards.

Little credit

Having said that, let's not be too despondent.

[ image: Dan Luger (left): England's finest attacking option]
Dan Luger (left): England's finest attacking option
England can still beat the Springboks in Paris, and a semi-final at Twickenham gives them a chance of seeing off anyone.

But suddenly the prospect of a New Zealand-England final seems rather less likely than it did at 4.29pm on Saturday.

And two other points. Wasn't it great to hear Twickenham echoing to tumultuous cheers and roars throughout the game? Given the right match, the stadium can really rock.

But on a sour note. Who spotted the All Black replacements deliberately running up and down inside the in-goal area to distract Jonny Wilkinson as he was lining up a penalty?

Professionalism taken to an unacceptable level.

The All Blacks may be the best team in the world, but conduct like that does them, and the game, little credit.

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Rugby World Cup 1999
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