Double: Jonny May
England winger Jonny May scored two tries as Stuart Lancaster’s side picked up a welcome if unconvincing 28-9 win over Samoa at Twickenham.
Seeing England and Samoa’s players link arms following the final whistle and kneel in prayer was undoubtedly the highlight of a poor game that had been overshadowed by off-field matters all week.
Samoa were never going to be walkovers but England were expected to find some fluency in attack, which they never truly achieved bar rare flashes of inspiration.
This win may have ended a five-match losing streak, but it was hardly something to shout about.
Their first half was best described as shambolic; a neverending succession of nervous errors and limited attacking rugby that did little to inspire a crowd who are turning on them.
May is a threat and worked hard while Mike Brown showed glimpses of his old self, but there wasn’t enough to feel confident about England again after the last two weeks.
Had they been up against a side with a competitive scrum, anything rather than Samoa’s struggling eight, then their recent record may have turned even more sour.
England have regressed considerably since Wales and Ireland came to Twickenham and were sent packing.
The four games against New Zealand were meant to improve England as a competitive force, not accentuate their now painfully obvious weaknesses. The whole first half typified where they’ve been going wrong, as despite a dominant set-piece the failed to capitalise.
Matters certainly improved in the second half, no doubt, but a bruised Wallabies outfit will arrive in London licking their lips after two narrow losses in seven days.
England will have to be hugely better than this. For the most part, they were all bluster and no end product going forward, though that’s not to be confused with defence where Chris Robshaw led the way on 22 tackles.
George Ford provided some pleasing touches on his first start, particularly with an arrowed cross field kick for England’s second try by Mike Brown.
Smashed on a couple of occasions, the 20-year-old on his first cap didn’t flinch. England needed authority and confidence and he provided it when required.
A hard tackle on England’s new man from Johnny Leota should never have been a yellow card, but in the process decided the result as England scored their third try with Samoa down to 14 men.
That decision was rough on Samoa but in reality is a drop in the water compared to the off-field calamity that is the governance of the Samoan Rugby Union.
Dan Leo admitted earlier this week that being focused for Twickenham would be difficult and for all of their determination, Samoa’s set-piece couldn’t support them enough to really punish England’s error-strewn 40 minutes and beyond.
Slopping handling in the opening quarter hindered the home side’s progress after Tusi Pisi’s fourth-minute penalty, but Ford broke the deadlock following a Samoa indiscretion at the scrum which paved the way for Jonny May’s first try.
The flyer was practically tap tackled by a team-mate after being released by Mike Brown, but did enough to score his second Test try.
Further penalties from Pisi and Ford took us to half-time with England up 13-6 in poor conditions.
Ford’s input continued after the break with a third penalty and that fine assisting kick which ended with Brown’s score, Anthony Watson showing good composure to offload rather than force the score, with Pisi keeping England honest before the yellow card changed the game’s dynamic.
From then on Twickenham fell flat again, groaning as England’s attack once again misfired.
The centre pairing of Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt was greeted with scepticism and shouldn’t be trotted out again, even despite Farrell and Ford linking well for May’s first try.
England simply have better options that need to be used instead – Barritt’s lack of attacking prowess in Test rugby, however well he does for Saracens, cannot be ignored.
England’s coaches should watch Luther Burrell closely on Sunday against Saracens and consider pairing him with one of Kyle Eastmond or Billy Twelvetrees for Australia to give their midfield more life.
That had been the hope for James Haskell, brought in to give England’s carrying options, yet he failed to register a single one.
England ended with a whimper rather than the morale-boosting bang required. Marland Yarde and Brown’s failure to execute a breakaway chance summed up their night, with Dave Attwood’s knock on signalling the end.
For Samoa this is their last game until the All Blacks next year. Change has to happen behind the scenes if we are to see the best of them in that momentous occasion.
They deserve more, never giving up even with the game lost, typified by their captain David Lemi. Let’s hope the media attention and call to arms over the last week isn’t another false dawn.
Tries: May 2, Brown
Cons: Ford 2
Pens: Ford 3
Pens: Pisi 3
Yellow Card: Leota
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 George Kruis, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Marland Yarde
Samoa: 15 Ken Pisi, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 David Lemi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 5 Kane Thompson, 4 Filo Paulo, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Ti’i Paulo, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Manu Leiataua, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Fa’atiga Lemalu, 20 Dan Leo, 21 TJ Ioane, 22 Pete Cowley, 23 Mike Stanley.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)