Matt Dawson column: George Ford had freedom to take control in Owen Farrell absence

Matt Dawson
Matt Dawson

It may not have been a statement England win over Argentina, but instead just a quick paragraph to say 'don't forget about us, we are capable of that performance'.

We can be proud of annihilating a team without scoring any tries. This is about winning.

It's like prodding the bear a little bit, because the bigger guns may have felt OK about meeting England in the quarter-finals or the semi-finals.

But all of a sudden, England have shown significant progress over a two-week break where physically, mentally and tactically they look like they have a little bit more capability.

They are going to be in a quarter-final against either Australia, Wales and Fiji and I don't think any of those teams would like to play against that England side, as opposed to the one from the summer.

Ford took control in Farrell's absence

A lot has been said about how these England fly-halves manage the game at international level. How George Ford and Owen Farrell, and now Marcus Smith, aren't doing it for England.

We have lacked a fly-half for decades that genuinely pulled the strings. We have had the odd performance but no-one who dictates to the team that this is what we are going to do.

Part of the issue is when Ford and Farrell are playing for their clubs, they are the governor and they are running the side. I know they are good mates, and have been for years, but it's very difficult to have two established fly-halves in the same team.

Farrell is England captain and has been first choice as the more confrontational player and is maybe a touch more Alpha.

It might not have even been in Ford's subconscious, but he played that game as if he was in complete control. He didn't have to go to the likes of Ben Youngs and Farrell. It was 'no, this is my game and I'm in control'.

It was very black and white, very tactical and strategic, and very collaborative with the whole of the team.

It felt more controlled, as if Ford was content in the way he wanted the team to play.

After that early adversity of going down to 14 men, he was thrown the ball in a way that was slightly disjointed and he turned it into a drop kick.

You saw the penny drop.

'OK, we are down to 14, it is horribly slippy and messy in these humid conditions, maybe we can establish a foot in the door of the game by needling away at the opposition.'

Three points became six, which became nine.

Argentina were slightly punch-drunk and didn't really know how to counter it. England went into lock-up mode and knew it would be very tough for the Pumas to score and go through phases, so it was the perfect time to implement the style of this kicking game England have wanted to play in the last 12 months.

I just can't see how or why England change that team. It is an easy selection next week with the bans that are around - and a replacement for Curry - but England have found a combination that obviously enjoy the way Ford directed them.

'Curry was everywhere... for three minutes'

Tom Curry
Tom Curry was sent off during England's 27-10 World Cup win over Argentina for a head-on-head tackle on Juan Cruz Mallia

England have had a run of red cards but I can't imagine they are doing anything differently to anybody else in training in terms of their approach tackling. It's very much an individual mindset, shown by that incident where both Elliot Daly and Tom Curry have gone in to smash Juan Cruz Mallia.

Daly has got it spot on and is bent over, hinged at the hips and sinking low, so even if Mallia catches the ball and goes into a position where the winger hits him in the head there is mitigation because of the position he is in.

That probably doesn't help Curry's case, because the television match official is seeing one England player get it right and one who hasn't.

His body is not hinged enough, therefore he is never going to get low enough and by the letter of the law that is a red card.

It was a shame because he had an amazing three minutes.

He was everywhere, causing havoc, making turnovers, rushing into everything. We were already starting to praise his selection, and coming straight back into the team, because of the difference he was making in the defensive line and how he was working in tandem with Ben Earl.

Of course there was plenty of adrenaline coursing through his veins but I don't believe there was any malice in that tackle.

He was trying to set up a very tough tackle to the chest and it was just one of those very unfortunate things where he has paid the ultimate price despite not doing too much wrong in that split second.

It was really unlucky but in the same breath, he has to have responsibility for putting his body in the position it was in.

Defensive improvements and selection vindicated

There is no question when people like England's defence coach Kevin Sinfield get questioned in the media or publicly, the team are going to take that to heart as much as the man himself.

There was definitely a desire to put their bodies on the line - it was noted by everyone in the stadium.

England were happy to play without the ball and I can't emphasise how difficult those conditions were with the heat and the humidity. Having the ball wasn't really an advantage unless it was off a turnover and counter-attack.

England's defence was tactically spot on, and Alex Mitchell's selection at scrum-half definitely paid off - for numerous reasons.

One of them was how his inexperience benefitted England, given what happened with Curry and Ford taking control.

Mitchell was sniping in traffic and I don't think there is anyone better in England at doing that.

He had a bit of a shaky start with his first box-kick but, within two or three minutes, he was into the flow of the game and looked liked he was very comfortable in that jersey and in that team.

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