- de Glanville takes reins for final QBE Internationals column
- Former centre looks at England's midfield for Australia clash
Phil de Glanville won 38 caps for England over a seven-year Test career, all but five of them coming at centre.
He faced Australia four times over that period, suffering three losses and a draw. Now Director of Elite Sport at Hartpury College, the 46 year-old also spent a season playing club rugby in Brisbane as a teenager.
As such, de Glanville is in a fantastic position to preview the clash between Stuart Lancaster's charges and the Wallabies this Saturday at Twickenham.
Looking ahead to an enthralling fixture, he looks at England's win over Samoa, their midfield approach and the Antipodean challenge that awaits.
When things happen for any team, it is usually because they are playing off their midfield three – the fly half and the two centres. They are the distributors and the decision-makers, pulling the forwards around them. You need all three of them to be working together to get that flow to the game.
George Ford showed his running ability and his partnership with Owen Farrell has the potential to work as shown by the couple of lovely first phase tries we scored. But I’d like to see even more from the midfield as a whole.
The difficulty for England has been injuries. In those positions, you need time playing together. Understanding comes then, so you know how to react to what the players inside and outside are going to do.
Unfortunately, time is a luxury England do not have. The World Cup may be a year away, but there are only nine games to go and you want a combination to spend most of those matches together.
It’s not a problem with selection. Injuries have forced their hand because each week there is different personnel available to them. It must be very frustrating for the coaches.
You have to go back to who you would pick when everyone is fit and on form. Luther Burrell was right up there before he got injured, so I would presume he would be close if he is fit again.
Kyle Eastmond is a tremendous runner and a tremendous talent. It would come down to whether he can orchestrate those players around him.
For midfield attack to work in phase-play, the 10, 12 and 13 have to work in harmony and they have to all be capable of making the right decision. They have to be looking up, seeing where the space is and communicating. It’s no good just relying on the 10. He needs to be given messages as clearly and early as possible.
Then it becomes about organisation – do you need to use your solid ball-carriers, or do you have to get the forwards out of the way to bring in the pace of your backs in space?
There is a huge amount of work that goes on off the ball. When all three men are doing that, it comes down to execution and skill-sets – passing accurately and running straight to preserve space.
At Bath I played with either Stuart Barnes or Mike Catt at 10 and Jerry Guscott outside of me. We were alongside each other for six or seven years, so instinct came in and that chatter would happen almost automatically.
Inevitably, England need fall-back options because there will be injuries up to and during the tournament. In any case, I’m very intrigued as to who is picked this weekend.
I played against Australia four times in my career, losing three and drawing one. It’s fair to say we did not have much success.
In that period they were very creative. You never knew where they were going to attack you because of their evasion, deception, sleight of hand and running lines. They were just so clever.
With South Africa and New Zealand, it was easier to predict how they would come at you. With the Wallabies, you were always half-guessing one way or another.
There was Tim Horan, Jason Little, Ben Tune and Stephen Larkham, who could get through a gap the size of a fag paper. Australia were the first to use wrap-around moves from scrum half as well. There was also something new coming from them. They were really innovative – that was my abiding memory of them.
There is definitely an element of ambition in their psyche. They want to have a go. That helps them try things and the more you practice those high-risk options, the more they come off.
Having spent a year playing club rugby in Brisbane as an 18 year-old, I also saw just how often the backs had the ball – so much more often than here. Because it is usually dry, you spend a lot of time going forward into space as opposed to taking a couple of seconds to make sure you have actually caught the ball because it is so wet.
Of course, everyone knows about how competitive Australia is as a nation. I remember lining up a kick during that year I was playing for Western Districts. It was the same day Australia were playing England and the match was on in the clubhouse. I was obviously getting a lot of stick from the touchline along the lines of England needing all the help they could get.
Australia have been beaten by Ireland and France this autumn, but they are still so threatening. It’s difficult to see them failing to score tries. For me, this weekend is about England looking threatening themselves for sustained periods of the game. Everything else – set-piece and defence especially – has looked good so far.
The other thing I’d want to see concerns mind-set. When England are enjoying periods of dominance, they have to hammer the nail in.
Against both New Zealand and South Africa, they had a chance to do that but couldn’t quite grab the game by the scruff of the neck and take their chances when they are on top.
Theoretically, they should get a result if they get those two factors right. But even if they don’t – and I accept no one likes losing to Australia – they will be in a better place if they demonstrate that attacking threat and lose, than they would be if they pull through a scrappy, dour arm wrestle and win.