England opened their autumn international series with a routine, almost perfunctory victory over Fiji, that just about saw them scrape par with a performance that was inspired by a few individuals but was collectively uninspiring.
Without Alex Goode, Charlie Sharples and Tom Johnson, Saturday would have been a pretty depressing display in qualitative terms and far less convincing in quantitative terms than the eventual 54-12 scoreline suggested.
But first matches in a series are strange beasts and are frequently underwhelming so it doesn’t do to be overly critical. Not since 2005 when they beat Australia 26-16 have England even approached impressive in their first Test of the season.
And all that can be deduced from the events of last weekend is that England are in a better place than Wales, Australia, Scotland and Ireland but nowhere near New Zealand or France.
What worried me about the performance against Fiji was the forwards and how pedestrian and unimaginative they seem compared to their opponents.
While England’s ball carriers crashed into contact to set up a ruck, the Fijians off-loaded and passed out of contact, desperate to keep the ball alive and play at pace. New Zealand mastered both essential elements in destroying the Scots.
At times it looks as though the only way an English forward knows how to carry a ball is tucked under his arm with his head down and straight into a brick wall. The same can be said of a few of Stuart Lancaster’s backs too.
Frustratingly that might be enough to beat Australia this weekend. With Aussie skipper David Pocock unlikely to be fit the breakdown will be a much safer place and the Red Rose heffalumps stand considerably more chance of getting away with their serial ruck production than if Pocock’s jackelling skills had been there to challenge it.
Extended periods of retained possession and dominance at the scrum will probably be enough to engineer an England victory, especially if Graham Rowntree’s pack emulate France’s set-piece excellence.
Once again Australia were a scrummaging shambles in Paris and Joe Marler and Dan Cole must be slavering at the prospect of tucking into their gold-shirted lambs this Saturday.
The only source of comfort at this stage for the under pressure coach Robbie Deans is that Lancaster has opted to spite his face by refusing to select Australia’s nemesis Andrew Sheridan. The experienced loosehead is a proven Test performer, the mere sight of whom would have turned the Australians’ legs all Wallaby, sorry wobbly.
But because he plays in France he is considered unavailable. A stance England might soon come to regret – but not this weekend.