Expect the unexpected
October 3, 2011
Steve Thompson calls the shots against Scotland © Getty Images
It might not have been pretty but we are right where we wanted to be. Four games, four wins and we are heading into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals having come through a very tough group.
It was a case of them or us against Scotland on Saturday and a tough game like that is just what you need at the end of the pool campaign before you head into the knock out stages.
I must admit the occasion got to me a little. It is always special when you play Scotland but during the anthems it really hit me. I have put so much work in over the last four years to get back where I am and being part of such a big game at the World Cup brought it home. It has been a long time coming and I am enjoying every minute. I always love singing the national anthem but it was just that little bit more special on Saturday because the atmosphere was something else. We have played in bigger stadiums and in front of more people but Eden Park that night was immense.
Things obviously didn't go to plan in the first half. We had done our homework and knew that the Scots would counter ruck hard because that is the way they play but it never felt like they were over-powering us or had us in serious trouble. For us, it was all about getting the points when we could but that didn't happen. We may have had some good periods but Scotland were more clinical in the 22.
The conditions obviously didn't help either side. At one stage it looked like we were going to get quite a lot of rain but thankfully it largely held out but the swirling wind was a real problem especially at the lineout. It was with you in one part of the stadium and the other side it would be against you but then suddenly the opposite would be true. Before the match I went all the way around the pitch throwing the ball trying to get a feel for the conditions because we have had the luxury of playing our last three games in doors. Playing outside was going to bring problems but we simply had to adjust and I think we did that. There were a couple of calls that didn't quite work but considering the conditions I think the lineout worked quite well.
The scrum was also a bit of a lottery to be honest. Fair play to Scotland, they had a good go at us but we had a good go at them too. There were times that we got penalised when we were going forward but there is not a lot you can do because that was just the way it was being managed by the referee. Like the conditions, it's up to us to deal with that but it was quite hard on the night. If you look at the scrums, a lot of them were spinning around, they weren't go forwards or backwards but when we did get them where we wanted them, we were able to shove them around a bit.
There was no panic at half-time. Johnno can be a bit animated but if anything everyone was quite calm despite the fact we were down on the scoreboard. There was a fair bit of frustration on the players' part due to the fact that we hadn't really had any proper shots at them but we knew we were still in the game.
As far as the scrum was concerned, it was just a mindset thing really. Things were not going our way but Graham Rowntree was confident we would wear them down and just told us to keep going. We just had to keep hold of the ball, string a few phases together and kick to the corners a bit more. It was all about building a platform and putting their pack under pressure because we knew that would tell in the end - and it did.
The team may have returned to the headlines for other reasons after the game but I must admit I don't really look at them. I don't know if it has been blown out of proportion or what, I wouldn't like to say, but for me, we're here to play rugby and win matches and that's what we are doing. You are in a bit of a fishbowl here which in one way is quite bad because you don't know what is going on in the outside world but at the same time at least we are away from it all.
The focus now falls on France and I for one am not fooled by their defeat to Tonga. I think that performance had something to do with the fact that they knew they were through to the quarter-finals. Everyone knows that the French can be quite bad one week and the best team in the world the next. They are not the kind of side that needs to build up into some kind of form. They have the ability to just turn up on the day and be incredible and that is the way that we will look at it this weekend's game.
They may have not been at their best of late but neither have we. They have got a good pack and have guys who can score tries from all over the park so we have got to be on our best game. It's about us going out there and putting in a big performance and swinging the game in our favour.
If I am selected it will be great to go up against the likes of William Servat again. I have had some good games against him in the past when I was playing for Brive against Toulouse and I also remember coming off the bench against France a couple of years ago. He's one of the best hookers around so if I am given the opportunity to take him on again then great. As a forward, there is nothing better than playing the French, especially as a front row forward.
We know we haven't played as well as we can in the past few weeks which continues to be frustrating and that is something we have got to address this week. But we showed against Scotland that we can dig deep and produce when we have to although we will have to step it up again this week. We're now playing knock out rugby so there is no second chance.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Steve Thompson will be writing direct from the England camp for ESPNscrum each week during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.