- England Forwards Coach voices disappointment at Paris performance
- Rowntree praises George and Easter ahead of squad announcement
Graham Rowntree refused to mask his frustration at the performance of his pack during this weekend’s 25-20 defeat to France, but insisted there was no need to panic with the Rugby World Cup now less than a month away.
England conceded a string of ruck penalties and found it extremely difficult to assert a sturdy set-piece platform against Les Bleus in Paris. Indeed, a tally of four lost lineouts over the 80 minutes meant the visitors were starved of an attacking foundation for long periods.
Referee Jaco Peyper also went to his whistle seven times in the opening half because of England infringements, allowing France to build up a 15-6 advantage that was compounded by Yoann Huget’s try shortly after the break.
Exuding admiral honesty, Rowntree gave an uncompromising assessment of Saturday evening.
“As a forwards coach I’m obviously disappointed about what happened on Saturday night,” he said.
“Lots of areas in my department didn’t function as they should do – we have some pretty high standards around here.
“It’s not panic stations. That is what warm-up games are for. I’ve played in enough warm-up games before the start of seasons where things have not gone to plan. It gives us plenty to work on.”
In terms of areas to improve, the former Leicester Tiger was typically frank as well.
“Tomorrow morning we will have a unit session and then a fairly active team session in the afternoon. We’ll be looking at lineout delivery especially.
“The scrum wasn’t helped on Saturday night with the surface but that is no excuse from me – we just struggled on occasion against a very big, heavy French pack. Again, we’re finding out these things now rather than in a few weeks’ time.”
“On top of that, the breakdown is going to receive a lot of attention from us as it does from us all the time. I think some of our decision-making early on in terms of how we were challenging those breakdowns defensively early on didn’t go our way.
“We need to learn quicker going forward, because we just can’t give ourselves a load of points to try and gain back – I think we conceded 12 points in the first 20 minutes in Paris.
“Apart from that, it’s going to be a pretty quiet week.”
The second QBE International against Ireland on 5 September and the Rugby World Cup-opening clash with Fiji on 18 September are two dates that are looming large for Stuart Lancaster’s set-up.
Before those crucial ties comes Thursday, when England will name their 31-man squad for the tournament. While this version of Le Crunch may have disheartened Rowntree as a whole, he was buoyed by certain individual efforts and remains wholeheartedly confident in his charges.
“We can look at positives from the game as well. We’re finding out about people. Some guys are having their first hit-out for a few months and others made some significant impact off the bench.
“I was delighted with Jamie George’s performance on his first cap and the old stager Nick Easter made a great impact off the bench alongside Dave Attwood. The props [Mako Vunipola and David Wilson] continued the tough work that Joe [Marler] and Dan [Cole] had done in the first half.
“Overall, the camp has been exceptional. The guys have worked harder than I’ve seen in a long time and we’ve asked them to train through these games so we’d go into them with a bit of fatigue.
“We’ve done that as well. All that is in the bank and we’re learning. It’s all good stuff and we’re in a good place heading into the Ireland game and into the World Cup.”
As a player, Rowntree missed out on selection for the victorious 2003 Rugby World Cup campaign as Clive Woodward opted to bring props Jason Leonard, Jason White, Phil Vickery and Trevor Woodman.
Now in the position to make those decisions – and deliver the news to the players – he was aware how difficulty the task would be.
“We’ve got that this week too. We’re analysing Saturday night so we’ve got to get that right and then we have to make some decisions.
“It’s going to be hard. In a few critical positions, it’s going to go down to the wire, and that’s the way it should be because it’s an exceptionally talented and competitive squad.“I’ve been there myself, and all you crave as a player is honesty. They’ll get that honesty.”