By my reckoning, England are as good as out of the World Cup.
It will take a miracle, based on last night’s performance, for Stuart Lancaster’s men to beat Australia and not to become the first World Cup hosts to exit in the group stage.
With the Welsh set-piece in tatters and England dominant at 22-12 half an hour from fulltime, there wasn’t much to suggest an outcome other than the predicted home win.
But than it all went horribly wrong.
Actually no… that wasn’t when it went horribly wrong, it went array when Lancaster opted to play beefcake in his midfield rather than ball players.
Here are four key questions which Lancaster needs to address if England are going to survive in the competition and he is going to be in the job come the Six Nations.
And I’ve suggested some answers.
1) Is Owen Farrell the right man in the 10 shirt?
He kicked 18 points including a long-range drop goal but this was countered by a twitchy but metronomic performance from Dan Biggar, his opposite number. Farrell failed to find touch from a penalty which would have created huge pressure on the Welsh line at a critical time — inexcusable these days. Other than his defensive qualities, he brings little to the party and failed to get the mid-field heavy cavalry out of first gear.
Solution: start with George Ford. But preferably I would have started with Cipriani.
2) Most pundits consider that England lost the game due the high penalty count and yet England were only pinged 12 times. Sir Clive Woodward’s acceptable penalty limit was 10, so the number in itself was not the problem. It was how they were conceded — mostly at the breakdown with Dan Cole and Joe Marler in particular failing to stay on their feet.
Solution 1: drop Cole. Although he scrummaged well last night, he is a liability elsewhere. He can’t handle, gets on the way of the backs (as does Marler) and, I’m sorry, but although he’s not much slower than Chris Robshaw, he is not, and never will be an ‘extra No7’.
Solution 2: for the first 20 minutes, England didn’t contest the breakdown, frequently only putting one man into it. Remember Biggar’s drop goal attempt? Frustrate the opposition rather than compete and eventually they will make a tactical or a technical error and hand the ball back to you.
3) The midfield combination didn’t work against Wales, and the same trio will be hopelessly out of their depth against Australia.
Solution: if Lancaster is going to stick with bulk, play Brad Barritt between Ford and Henry Slade, as Jonathan Joseph is unfit. At least that gives him two from three creative players. Stay on the bench please, Big Sam.
4) England had a chance to salvage a draw from a touchline penalty with time running out. I would have put money on Farrell nailing this and taking a share of the spoils would have completely changed the dynamic of the group. When questioned about this decision, Lancaster rather lamely claimed that this was an on-field decision.
Solution: I find it inconceivable that this eventuality would not have been addressed in team meetings. If not, it’s time it was. Ironically, it’s right up there as one of the worst tactical decisions, alongside Australia’s pointless shot at goal against Fiji, rejecting the chance for a try bonus point.
And England may yet — as that well respected Rugby pundit, Samuel L Jackson’s tweet suggests — have to rely on Fiji beating Wales for survival.
Can I hear whistling of the opening bars of The Great Escape replace the singing of Swing Low already?