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Ford’s been caught short so Cipriani must start

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By Jeremy Guscott

Danny Cipriani simply has to start the final Test in Cape Town next Saturday. George Ford was asked the question last week if he had the wherewithal to bring a side back into contention at Test level when things aren’t going your way and the crowd is getting on top of you – he failed that examination last week and did so again yesterday.

He has not shown that he can drive the side to where it needs to be with the correct tactics and execution.

Ford should have been taken off imediately after he was caught behind England’s defensive line and offloaded the poor pass to Brown, who then got done for holding on which led to an Handre Pollard penalty. It wasn’t long after that Cipriani was brought on, but Ford should have gone there and then. He was done.

Cipriani now needs the opportunity to show that he can control a Test match from the off, rather than coming on when his side are chasing the game. He made a couple of telling passes that got England over the gain line and seemed to bring more pace to the attack.

In that vein I would also give his old Wasps half-back partner Dan Robson a go at No.9. Ben Youngs has to be doing more running and sniping with ball in hand to start interesting the guards in the breakdown defence.

So far in this series, other than Cipriani’s cameo, none of the bench have really made an impact. It’s hard to pick out an individual who has stood out.

There are some huge questions to be answered and they all start with Eddie Jones. Jones says he has a plan to see England lift the World Cup, but at the moment it is stuttering in a way that is frustrating him. Where they fall down is they are not playing accurately enough whatever they are trying to do, whether it is kicking exits, passing or clearing out rucks.

In an interview this week Eddie said he couldn’t really put his finger on what was going wrong. A lot of the time you can identify what’s going wrong, for instance if you are missing a lot of tackles, your lineout is not functioning or your scrum units aren’t cohesive. But it seems to me that England are getting that first 15 or 20 minutes right, in attack certainly, but for whatever reason there is then a catalyst and they switch off.

In this game it was Farrell’s poor exit which missed touch after their second try, a bit like Ben Youngs did last week. From there they really struggled to get a grip on the game and just when they might be getting back, something would happen to kill momentum. Too many times they had the ball ripped out of contact or dropped a simple pass, gave away silly penalties like Nathan Hughes playing the ball on the ground, and then the mother of all mess ups, Brad Shields dropping the ball over the line.

Is Brad Shields an international player? Not on that performance. Where was England’s Duane Vermeulen? Where was Billy Vunipola’s world class ability? Where has Nathan Hughes’ form from two years ago in the Premiership gone? Who is playing so well that they are rubber stamped for the next game? They’ve lost the intensity of the side that went on that long unbeaten run.

We saw a bit more kicking in the first half as if they had learned from last week’s errors and the finishing was excellent. The first try from Brown was well executed, sucking in the South African midfield defence and Brown coasting over. And then a simple overlap from poor midfield play allowed May to cruise in.

But after that it was goodnight. They had glimpses of coming back into it but they were thwarted by individual errors. Some players have not stood up to the challenge and while the noise of the crowd was immense, good players love silencing that and sticking it to them.

England shrunk as South Africa puffed their chests out and Vermeulen’s try in particular perfectly summed up the game. He stepped inside Billy Vunipola, shrugged off Maro Itoje’s attempted tackle and stepped over Ben Youngs to take the points. And to really stuff it up England they went and earned a penalty try. From then, the huff and the puff England might have had was extinguished.

The breakdown has not worked again and they have not rectified the issues from the latter stages of the Six Nations.
Yes, Tom Curry can tackle hard, but how many passes does he make to people in space, how many jackals and turnovers at key times? Not many. He should not just be there to tackle – everyone can tackle. Against this huge back row, England have been ineffective and found wanting.

They appear to be cruising for whatever reason and Eddie needs to fire a shot across the bows to tell them their places are not safe for the World Cup. Eddie looks to be waiting for Manu Tuilagi or Ben Te’o to come back into the midfield mix to give him more power and direction and without that I’m not sure he has many options to play with. He won’t make massive changes but Alex Lozowski deserves be given a go at No.13.

Too many big players aren’t performing at their best. Itoje is still some way short of where he was 12 months ago and Kyle Sinckler doesn’t make anywhere near as big an impression as a starter as he does from the bench.

Maybe Eddie will rue not bringing Don Armand with him as he is the sort of warrior who says ‘I am physically going to dominate you’ and that’s where England have fallen down. They were dominated in the physical exchanges and also found wanting in the mental department too.

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