England win against Fiji in the first Rugby International of the Autumn: 54-12

Oh my word, there was a lot of hair styling going on with the England Rugby team today. They were playing Fiji. Can’t help thinking something’s not quite right when that’s the first thing you notice on match day, on hefty rugby types? Danny Care, for example, and not quite so hefty I admit, went for a high and tight and floppy on top thing, and Joe Marler seemed to be wearing what can only be described as a hairy slug on his shaven head.

After ten minutes play, Care was shown a yellow card for a spear tackle. The connection of hair cuts to discipline on the field is not wholly convincing, but he does have form in other areas. But if he’s decided to channel his extra-sporting energies into hairdos rather than drinking, being disorderly and visiting police stations then that’s good.

No real damage done, though. On his return to the field, after ten minutes in the bin, England were three points up, and not, as I believe the averages predict, seven points down. Not only was this a good omen for the game, but also a good means of forcing the team to knuckle down from the start. And when the binned player returns, it’s like playing with an extra man for the rest of the game.

To prove the point, Care returned and Sharples scored, with Flood converting, and it was 10-0. Okay, so this doesn’t really prove any point. The idea is nonsense, about as much nonsense as broken glass theory. Break a window or go a man down and you’ve lost something, no matter what else happens as a result of that loss. All the rest is just pseudo-rationale.

At about this point in the game, I noticed another fashion thing going on, for this is the weekend sports teams embroider poppies on their shirts; only the rugby boys seem to favour their poppies being on their guns (bicepts – or lower shoulder, at least). There was also Tuilagi’s little rat’s tail, and, being the month of November, Flood was trying to grow a moustache in aid of Movember and cancer awareness.

A penalty took England to 13-0, and Deacon Manu got a yellow card. Except this wasn’t going to work to Fiji’s advantage; it only works if you at least have parity, and Fiji did not. England clearly had the upper hand, but lacked precision, the kind of precision the All Blacks dish out with extra relish when facing weaker opposition – which is admittedly everyone else in the world except perhaps South Africa when grumpy. Ball to hand and running lines need improving. At 37 minutes, Sharples did the hard work, chipping the ball down the line after yet more effective but scrappy play, except could not ground it. Precision is found in the fine margins, where teams not only fail to get points but actively lose them.

Ugo Monye then popped up to score. I had thought his international career was over, so it was good to see him back, even though I’m not sure he has quite as much to offer as some of the other players waiting in the, err, wings. (That was funny because Ugo plays on the wing!)

Half-time, 25-0, and Greenwood and Morris in the Sky studio seemed to corroborate my critique with their interactive TV, showing examples of how lateral running gets you nowhere and straight running gets you over the gain line – two different games, as they said.

Fiji also lacked precision, knocking on from the England restart. Knock on led to scrum led to penalty led to three points for England. It’s a ‘simple game,’ as Greenwood and Morris said. The course of the game had been set, and points from Johnson, Sharples, Flood and Tuilagi added to Fiji’s woes. Fiji did score a try, but it wasn’t going to get them back in the game.

The match ended on 54-12, and the papers called it a thrashing, which it was. But I can’t help thinking it prescient that Fiji got the last score – a timely reminder that England did well, but need to work on their precision if they are going to win against Australia next week.

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