Nick Cain: This should have been child’s play for England

Dan RobsonContainment is a very dangerous game in an 80-minute sport, and the England U20s paid the price of a policy as ill-conceived as it was badly executed in Cape Town on Tuesday night when they crashed to an ignominious 28-15 defeat at the hands of a South African side that had to beat them by four clear tries – and proceeded to do exactly that.
The win secured the Baby Boks a place in the last four of the World Junior Championships, despite England going into the match as odds-on favourites to progress, and left the England U20 coach, Rob Hunter, scratching his head in disbelief.
However, assuming that the team were playing to a tactical plan drawn up by Hunter, he got this match as wrong as he got last year’s knife-edge final against New Zealand right. England’s first-half dominance was clear-cut, especially up front where the Exeter loose-head, Luke Cowan-Dickie, had South Africa’s tight-head, Oliver Kebble, in all sorts of bother, forcing him to be substituted on the half-hour.
The hitch was that England did not exploit their excellent platform to build unstoppable momentum. Instead of moving the ball and then using their initially dominant pack to pressure South Africa until the pips squeaked, captain Chris Walker and his crew played the percentages, keeping it tight and kicking.
It was ‘method rugby’, robotic and frustrating to watch, especially as you knew England had enough talent in their team to put tries past the Baby Boks, with No.8 Jack Clifford the best ball-playing forward on the pitch, and wing Marlon Yarde a dangerous finisher.
 CartoonAll it needed was for England to score one try, and South African self-belief, already badly shaken by their loss to Ireland, would have been punctured. Cowan-Dickie’s supremacy had already put the skids under them, but England seemed content to nudge ahead on the scoreboard with penalties, with their sterility highlighted when Tom Heathcote had a go at goal from 10 metres inside his own half.  Tommy Bell was more successful with another long-range effort giving England their 3-0 lead at the interval, but when they set Yarde free down the right wing in the final act of the half, taking a tremendous cover tackle by Paul Jordaan to stop him scoring, you realised what Hunter’s team had squandered by not going for broke from the start.
Their folly was laid bare when the Baby Boks stand-in captain, centre William Small-Smith, sliced through untouched for a try only three minutes into the second-half.
England had made the fatal mistake of giving South Africa a sniff of redemption, and it was enough. When their abrasive flanker Shaun Adendorff plunged over for a second almost immediately, England were on the back foot and starting to lose composure, and although Bell kicked three more penalties to keep them in touch, when weak tackling led to a third  try by flanker Pieter Steph Du Toit, it was panic stations.
By then it was too late because the impetus was all South African, and, when an electric burst by Adendorff rounded off the four try spree, it was England’s confidence that had been shredded.
A fifth Bell penalty put them within range of survival, but they still needed two converted tries to knock over their opponents and the eyeballs-out Baby Boks defence was never going to let them in.
It was a costly lesson for Hunter, and for an England side touted beforehand as one of the best to have competed in the Junior World Championships. The most basic rule of knock-out rugby is that if you do anything other than go for an outright win from the start, you are asking for trouble. How the England U20s forgot that is hard to fathom.

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