They say there is no hiding place in the world of elite sport and there was certainly none for England skipper Chris Robshaw at Twickenham last Saturday against South Africa.
The decision from Robshaw to kick at goal in the dying minutes rather than kick for the corner, take the lineout and hope for try from the ensuing lineout drive was a direct result of the criticism he had received in the press due to his decision making a week earlier against Australia.
He knew immediately that he had made the wrong call, his team-mates knew, the whole of the stadium knew it and so did millions watching at home.
It is a decision that will have haunted him all week, so much so that the England management have come out publicly this week to say the team are behind him. They had no choice but to do so, but it has opened up the whole debate about his captaincy.
It was a much improved performance from England in many respects.
The breakdown was contested with much more aggression and commitment than against the Wallabies, and defensively England were much better and it was only a fluke of a try that breached England’s line.
Tom Wood had an excellent return to the starting line up, it was he who set the tone for England’s competitiveness at the ruck. If there are to be serious questions over Robshaw’s captaincy then Wood is the man in waiting and would have got the job initially, in my view, had he not been injured.
Ben Morgan also impressed at No.8 and I simply do not understand how the England management had picked Thomas Waldrom ahead of him for the first two games. The only rational explanation is that perhaps they were trying to fire a shot across the bows of Morgan who has been under the microscope due to his fitness. There is no question in my opinion who is the better player.
England dominated all the stats, possession and territory, while South Africa had to make far more tackles than England but sadly it never looked like the home side were going to cross the try line.
England’s inability to break down the defences of these tougher southern hemisphere sides is a problem and I think it might be time to give young Jonathan Joseph from London Irish a run at outside centre and move Manu Tuilagi to inside centre.
The only worry with that option is that I don’t think Tuilagi is the best distributor of the ball, so perhaps he could find himself a role on the wing, where he could have a big impact, with Brad Barritt retaining the inside centre slot.
There are still plenty of questions to answer with England’s midfield combination, and on Saturday we should get the chance to see what Freddie Burns can do in the 10 jersey as he will probably get some game time off the bench.
So far this has been very much a case of what could have been for England in this autumn campaign. However, a win on Saturday against world champions New Zealand and people would very quickly forget the fragilities of the two performances against the Wallabies and Springboks.
The cold reality, though, is I cannot see that happening. England will have to step up several gears and the All Blacks will need to have an off day which is unlikely as they will be determined to finish 2012 with a unbeaten record.
It is always difficult to compare great teams and particularly those across different generations, but in my view this current All Blacks team are probably the best and most complete side we have ever seen.
Their results in 2012 speak for themselves but if you want an example of what I am talking about just replay their first try against Wales last Saturday: it was sheer class.
Backs and forwards counter attacking, interlinking, offloading, creating quick ball phase after phase; it almost looked like a training ground exercise.
I have a sneaky feeling that Saturday could be another tough lesson for Robshaw and his troops.
FRENCH CLUBS MUST STOP RECKLESS SPENDING
It has been a contagion that has affected rugby clubs and regions across the home unions in the past couple of years, but this is the first time the drain of rugby talent to France is going to directly affect the Saints with the news that both Soane Tonga’uhia and Brian Mujati are likely to ply their trade in Paris next season.
It is a blow for Northampton and there is no chance that they can hope to compete against the vastly inflated salaries that some of the French clubs are paying.
I have absolutely no problem with the players pursuing the French option and have gone on record to state that fact many times before.
It’s a short career and you cannot blame a player for signing a contract that will set them and their families up for life. The blame lies well and truly at the feet of the money men behind the French clubs, they are the ones who are guilty of building an unsustainable model.
I have always had concerns with what could happen if those money men lose interest or find the bottom of their deep pockets.
The French Rugby Union ought to be taking a more assertive role in this situation, the challenge they could have on their hands very shortly is clubs going bust, which has happened already, and also there could be limited opportunities for French talent to be developed.
Saints can be proud of the fact they have a sustainable business model.
It will hurt in the short term with loss of such big-name players but the Saints will be here for years to come which is more than can be said for some French clubs if they carry on with this reckless spending.
SALE COULD CAUSE SAINTS PLENTY OF PROBLEMS
In the Premiership last weekend Saints did just enough to squeeze past London Welsh.
It was an important win but still not a convincing performance.
Fortunately, Saints’ league position has been massively helped by defeats for Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and Saracens in the same round.
Friday night’s trip to Sale will be a very tough task for Northampton.
Sale have shown glimpses of class in most of their games and if they string a more consistent performance together then Saints could be in trouble.