Northern teams give painful viewing
4:51pm Monday 17th September 2007 in Sport
It was painful - very painful - watching England's inept World Cup performance against South Africa at Stade de France.
I watched it in a pub - the Butcher's Arms in Llandaff - and I took a bet off a mate who said South Africa would win by 30 clear points. I gave him a tenner at half-time.
I just don't know what England are trying to do.
They are very slow and ponderous up front, and there is a lack of creativity behind the scrum. I think they had a game plan to kick the ball against South Africa, but they didn't do it very well.
It all made for painful viewing. They were devoid of ideas, and now they have really got to start thinking about which personnel they play in the next couple of games against Samoa and Tonga.
I think England will win those two matches, but not if they perform as ineptly as they did against South Africa.
If you have difficulty scoring points, then it is obvious you are always going to be involved in close games. Because England are not creating tries, then they are going to be caught up in tight games.
Make no mistake, this is a huge couple of weeks for England, and there is no doubt both Samoa and Tonga could cause upsets.
Much has been said about Andy Farrell's presence in the team, but if other players are not running off him then there is no point in Andy being there.
Maybe England will go with a direct midfield approach and field the likes of Dan Hipkiss and Mathew Tait against Samoa, and if Jonny Wilkinson is there on Saturday, his mere presence will give them confidence.
People have said that Brian Ashton should have picked Lawrence Dallaglio for the South Africa game, but I don't feel he would have made much difference. He is not the most dynamic player any more.
England had a game plan that failed disastrously. They might think they can dominate the Samoans and Tongans up front, but if they want to progress in this tournament then they must find a cutting edge in order to score points.
If you look at England, and then Ireland's huge struggle against Georgia on Saturday, you would rather be Wales coach Gareth Jenkins than either Brian Ashton (England) or Eddie O'Sullivan (Ireland) at the moment.
Wales tried to play too much football early on against Australia.
You have got to get behind the gain-line, and they didn't do it in the first half. The Australian defence absolutely smashed them.
When you try to play too much football and things don't happen, you then lose patience and suddenly you are on the back foot. Wales also kicked badly.
When Wales get across the gain line, they can cause problems for anyone, but Australia are a very good side and they were extremely clinical. I like watching them play.
Tactically, I thought Wales got it a little bit wrong in the first half. Wales got over the gain line in the second half, they didn't get isolated so much, but with Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock going off, they took their foot off the pedal a little bit. They knew the game was won.
As for Ireland, I don't know what's happened with them.
They were one of the favoured northern hemisphere sides, but they had a poor August and in the two games so far against Namibia and Georgia they haven't shown any continuity or imagination.
They have really struggled and were lucky to beat Georgia.
Ireland's group was always going to be a close one, and a spanner was thrown into the works when Argentina beat France in the tournament's opening game.
Ireland have now got to beat one of those sides, maybe both. It's going to go down to the wire, and they could end up rueing a missed bonus point against Georgia.
It is going to be extremely difficult for Ireland now. They are not playing with any kind of form, and the two matches where they could have played themselves into form - against Namibia and Georgia - have now gone.
France also know they can't afford to lose against Ireland on Friday. It is effectively knockout rugby now.
For me though, the weekend once again underlined how well the southern hemisphere big three - New Zealand, Australia and South Africa - are playing.
It has been the story of the tournament so far.