There was a suspicion that England were beginning to believe their own press as the Stuart Lancaster regime took hold — but who better to bring them back to earth than Clive Woodward.
The man who masterminded England’s World Cup win in 2003 has seen his era made look even better by a succession of failures since, at least by the high standards that English fans and officials demand of their national side.
Having been tipped to win in many quarters of the English media, Saturday’s 20-14 reverse to a vulnerable, injury-hit Australia side had many pundits backpedalling.
Woodward yesterday shone the spotlight on Lancaster and insisted England should have been better prepared.
Woodward described the result as a huge missed opportunity for England, who he criticised for not taking the points when they were on offer in the second half.
Captain Chris Robshaw opted for line-outs and quick tap penalties in the belief Australia’s defence were at breaking point but England failed to score the try.
“The biggest thing is trying to be smart ahead of the game,” Woodward told BBC Radio Five Live.
“If you sat down on a Thursday night and gave the players the situation — you are 20-14 down with 22 minutes to go, you have a penalty, the ball is slow, what do you do? — the right decision is to kick for goal and reduce the points to just three.
“The key thing is not making decisions in the heat of battle, it is getting these things in players’ heads before you go on the pitch, so you know what is going to happen in every single situation. That is the secret to coaching.”
Woodward suggested this could be a defining week for Lancaster as England now face the daunting prospect of trying to recover from this setback against South Africa and then New Zealand, the top two teams in the world.
“There is a big opportunity for Stuart Lancaster to make his mark as a coach this week,” Woodward added.
“They now have a week to put this right.”
Scorers for England: Try: Tuilagi. Pens: Flood 3.
Scorers for Australia: Try: Cummins. Pens: Barnes 4. DG: Barnes.
ENGLAND: Goode, Ashton, Tuilagi, Barritt (Farrell 73), Sharples, Flood, Care (B Youngs 60), Marler (Vunipola 49), T Youngs (Paice 53), Cole, Palmer (Launchbury 53), Parling, Johnson (Wood 49), Robshaw, Waldrom.
AUSTRALIA: Barnes, Cummins, Ashley-Cooper, Tapuai, Ioane (Mitchell 69), Beale, Phipps, Robinson (Slipper 60), Polota-Nau, Alexander (Kepu 70), Timani, Sharpe, Dennis (Gill 55), Hooper, Palu.
Referee: Romain Poite (France).
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