CLIVE WOODWARD: England have the fear factor back

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England have the fear factor back after George Ford-inspired win over Argentina shows why no other team should want to play against our national side

  • England’s win over Argentina was classic example of the English fear factor 
  • George Ford inspired a memorable win to open England’s World Cup campaign 
  •  Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi deserve plenty of praise 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

One of the things English rugby has prided itself on over the years is that no other team in the world has ever wanted to play against our national side.

There has always been a fear factor for other outfits when it came to meeting England, whatever state we were in. I include the southern hemisphere giants in that. There is no doubt England had lost that fear factor. But after a remarkable win over Argentina to start their World Cup campaign, it is now back.

The beauty of sport is one game can change everything. Things can turn around overnight and the George Ford-inspired victory in Marseille is a classic example of exactly that. 

I’ve always been of the opinion that when England’s big players all front up, the team will do well regardless of who is coaching them. If you can marry that with a strong head coach and backroom team, then something special can happen.

For the first time in a long, long time — since the days of Eddie Jones and the last World Cup — England’s key men stood up to be counted when it really mattered. Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi have all been quiet for far too long at international level. But all three were outstanding against Argentina. They deserve plenty of praise.

George Ford was man of the match as England proved they are a team no one wants to play 

Manu Tuilagi’s tackle on Santiago Chocobares was a wow moment for the England man 

There were top performances from both Maro Itoje (L), Courtney Lawes in the impressive win 

Ford was rightly player of the match for his outstanding kicking and three drop goals. But Itoje wasn’t far behind. There were fewer histrionics to his game. Itoje got on with his work and after England lost Tom Curry, he helped his team to a backs-to-the-wall success.

Tuilagi’s tackle on Santiago Chocobares was a ‘wow’ moment — the sort of one-off incident which can inspire a side. When Tuilagi plays like that, he is a real force of nature. It was great to see him and Lawes firing on all cylinders. England’s scrum and line-out went well. They did the basics very well.

I woke up yesterday morning and laughed to myself when I remembered what had happened in Marseille. Not because I didn’t expect England to win. I thought they would, albeit narrowly. I was smiling because of the nature of how the game played out.

When Curry was sent off — and I maintain that was a very harsh decision — I think most England fans would have feared the worst. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking, ‘Here we go again!’ But England seem to be good when they’re backed into a corner. And it was great to see Steve Borthwick smiling in the coaching box as Ford put the boot into the Pumas.

Like me, I’m not sure Borthwick could believe what he was watching! He and the team looked to be enjoying the challenge. Again, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to see that visibly. Other sides will look at England differently now.

Let’s not pretend the Argentina performance was perfect. It wasn’t. England didn’t really get going in attack and failed to score a try. But playing virtually the whole game a man light must be taken into account when analysing their performance.

It only takes one game to get your mojo back and I believe England’s has now returned. Michael Cheika must be fuming. Cheika has so much rugby experience and Argentina’s loss to England must be the No1 defeat in his career. It was that bad.

Argentina were awful with a man advantage. Unlike England, no-one showed up. They panicked under pressure which is why Ford did so brilliantly to keep building the scoreboard. By going three, six, nine, Ford only added to Argentina’s worries. They imploded.

It was great to see Steve Borthwick smiling in the coaching box watching his side’s display

England should now top Pool D as they get set to play Japan, Chile and Samoa in the group 

When you go down to 14 men, the drop goal is a great tactic. If you do it well, it’s undefendable. Ford had one of the best days of his life and watching his performance took me back 20 years to when Jonny Wilkinson used to drop goals on a regular basis. It was that good.

England can now look forward to the rest of this World Cup with real confidence. They have some momentum and smiles on their faces. My view is Curry shouldn’t face a ban and his red should be rescinded.

England really should top Pool D now. Victory over Argentina has set them up nicely with Japan, Chile and Samoa to come.

If England do finish top, then they will likely face one of Wales, Australia or Fiji in the quarter-finals. I would love the team to face a reunion with Jones and meet Australia. But that is for the future. England must use Argentina as a starting point from which to build and take it one game at a time from now.

I was pleased to hear Ford driving that narrative in his post-match interview. The doom and gloom of the August campaign has disappeared in 80 minutes and I expect Borthwick and his team to be a totally different proposition moving forwards after this.

I’m really pleased for Borthwick who has taken a lot of flak. The criticism was deserved and so too is them receiving praise now. Onwards and upwards.

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