Phil Vickery Column
England must plant trees and let them grow
Phil Vickery
November 27, 2014
Phil Vickery carries forward in 2007 against Australia © Getty Images
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Saturday's Test is big for England. If this was two years ago, we would have been sitting there mildly content with England. They have run the world's best two sides close, but fallen short. Two years ago that would have been seen as part of the building process. But the great work Stuart Lancaster has done has built the expectation of this team. We now expect a performance from them and we want to see this England team winning against some of the world's best teams. They are coached well, they have the fitness levels but the frustration is this autumn series is similar to the last.

I feel England are still looking for those little one or two percenters which can get you over the line but I am confident they will find them before the World Cup.

One goal for England prior to this autumn series was to nail down a first-choice centre combination but I think England are further away than ever in this department. It is tricky but at some point, whether we like it or not, game time is running out and Lancaster will have to plant his tree to let it grow.

 
" Australia might not have the strongest set piece in the world but they will come at you and come at you and England cannot make the mistake of expecting dominance up front. "
 

The inclusion of Billy Twelvetrees is going back over old ground. His partnership with Brad Barritt is not going to set the world alight but I feel for Billy. He is in a slightly strange place as he will be told to impress against the Wallabies and if he plays well then it will be a case of waiting a couple of months until the next game which will be the start of the Six Nations. You have to give people time to gel and England have not done that during this autumn series.

The two changes in the pack were to be expected and this has been an area of real promise from England over the past three weekends. The pack has been a credit to the coaches and the players. Rob Webber's progression has been good and he is now a proven Test hooker but I've got a lot of respect for Dylan Hartley. He has had his indiscretions in the past whether it is the odd red card here or there but he has been leading the way in moving this England team forward. He has the experience and that's key for development.

For England to move forward they need competition for places and they have that in the front-row. Just look at the tight-heads - Dan Cole is coming back, Davey Wilson is there while Kieran Brookes has done a decent job and has come on leaps and bounds. Then there is the second-row with Dave Attwood - one of the main positives of Martin Johnson's era was him giving Attwood a chance - Graham Kitchener, Joe Launchbury, George Kruis, Geoff Parling and Courtney Lawes all there. The list goes on. The front-five is an area of real strength in the short, medium and long term.

England's Dylan Hartley wings the ball out, Onewa Oval, Auckland,  June 9, 2014
It is good to see Hartley back © Getty Images
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England will have to be careful. It is all very well having a dominant pack with your 100% lineouts and scrum execution but you cannot get caught up in that. There has to be a constant pathway from that supremacy into quality ball for the half-backs and then getting the fast chaps in on the action. Dominance in the pack cannot choke you.

Everyone makes the same mistake with Australia. Throughout history there is the perception they have a weak front-five but what they have always done brilliantly is analyse how they can get the best out of what they have at their disposal.

I remember playing against George Gregan and he used to hold the ball up in the air whenever the scrum went down or he waited for it to settle then put the ball in, or half in and then bringing it back to milk penalties from the scrums. They are a tenacious group and a proud nation. They might not have the strongest set piece in the world but they will come at you and come at you and England cannot make the mistake of expecting dominance up front.

There is less pressure on Australia this weekend and I saw with interest the comments from my old Wasps coach Shaun Edwards on that this week. I agree with him, you are under pressure in whatever you do whether it is involved in rugby or a job outside of the sport. There is expectation any time you pull on the national shirt or for those sitting in the stands masterminding it. The pressure is always on England and the coaches; you want to be winning rugby matches. It is that simple.

England are in a good place in my mind but a win will do wonders for morale. They will no doubt be looking for those little marginal gains come Saturday. I expect a reaction from England this weekend. There has been negativity about them but I am looking forward to seeing England go out there this weekend with positivity and hopefully getting a win.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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