CHRIS FOY: The fun factor is back as England win hearts and minds after 71-0 win vs Chile... But can Steve Borthwick find a way to keep Henry Arundell and Marcus Smith in the team?
For far too long, watching England hasn’t been much fun, but it was again on Saturday. While this 11-try mismatch was eclipsed by a World Cup classic hours later in Paris, it served a useful purpose.
Not only does Steve Borthwick have plenty of positive selection dilemmas and a full squad to choose from for the Pool D finale against Samoa on October 7, but his team are starting to win hearts and minds at last.
Danny Care summed up the significance of re-engaging the English public by providing some welcome entertainment, at the expense of gallant but outclassed Chile.
Asked if he understood that England fans were craving such attacking intent, the scrum-half said: ‘Yeah, we get it. I probably get it more than anyone, having been out of it and watching that team, thinking, “When are they going to let loose and show what we really want to see?” I thought we showed that today.
‘In the first two games, England were still getting stick for how we played, but we are sat here three from three and we’ve taken another step forward.
'In two weeks’ time against Samoa, we know that will be a really tough test, then hopefully we move on after that.’
England certainly will move on. They are thundering towards a quarter-final in Marseille, with belief and a rapidly-expanding repertoire.
'While making allowances for this opposition’s limitations, they overcame a sticky first quarter to run riot. Once they shed the early anxiety which saw some squander scoring chances, it was a thrilling ride — with eye-catching contributions from two rookies in the back three.
Marcus Smith should have had a try and an assist in the first 20 minutes, but he made amends later. What he offered, running at pace from full back and exploding into space, should be seen as a viable option later in the tournament.
His first try was a solo masterpiece as he burst on to a short pass by Owen Farrell, scorched through a gap, kicked ahead, regathered and finished with a flourish. It wasn’t just box-office gold, it was the sort of strike to give rival defence coaches nightmares.
‘That was nice,’ said Smith. ‘Sometimes at 10, you don’t get opportunities in those wider channels and I really enjoyed that. I got it off Faz and just saw space in behind. I thought I’d give it a go and run like Forrest Gump! Luckily, the ball popped up for me and it was a special try.’
For the last half-hour, Smith operated in a three-playmaker alliance with Farrell and George Ford. There were glimpses of the havoc they could wreak together and he added: ‘To have two ball-players on the inside who are really skilful makes my job really easy. All I’ve got to do is say whether I want the ball or not. They managed to find me a few times and I really enjoyed running in the wider channels.
‘We’ve been working hard on moving the ball. To be able to showcase our hard work was amazing and it was nice to get some reward for the wingers, score that many tries and put on a show for the fans.’
The winger who enjoyed those rewards was Henry Arundell. In his first World Cup appearance, he scored five tries, with a chip-and-chase finish his favourite moment. But after being presented with the man of the match award, the 20-year-old sensation showed his maturity, with a measured verdict on his red-letter day. ‘You don’t want to get too high or too low,’ he said. ‘It’s great scoring five tries but we haven’t won the World Cup. We still need to win the group. That’s the priority.’
Nonetheless, it was a proud occasion, a few months after Arundell was made redundant — just before going into England’s World Cup training camp — following the collapse of London Irish.
‘It was a sad time for a lot of people, so there was a bit of me that was playing for those lads,’ he said.
‘I was lucky we went straight into the camps four days later, so I was able to distract myself by going into training and doing the best I could to get selected for a World Cup.
England had a lift-off moment in Lille. Their hammering of Chile can be a real springboard for Steve Borthwick and his players.
There was never any doubt England would win and while the opposition must be taken into account, the performance impressed.
Henry Arundell scored five tries. Yes, some of them were walk-ins but there is no doubt Arundell has X-factor.
That’s a priceless ability and when you have it, the ball tends to follow you. Arundell has been criminally underused by England so far, so I hope the Chile game is the first of a long run for him in the starting side. For me, he starts on the wing for the rest of this tournament.
A back three of Arundell, Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward totally changes England’s attacking threat.
Borthwick’s side are now poised to top Pool D and will have a winnable quarter-final. From there, anything can happen.
'It was tougher on the lads who took quite a long time to get a new club. I’m glad most people have now resolved their futures.’
The problem for Borthwick is that Arundell has given a glimpse of his match-winning potential but will be unavailable after this tournament as he is joining Racing 92, meaning he is not eligible for England selection. But that is a problem for another day.
The immediate dilemma for the head coach is whether to persist with Smith and Arundell — and fun. There are big decisions to be made in the coming days, but England are set fair.
They still don’t look fluent enough to trouble the very best teams — but they are rising fast and have a route which gives them time to emerge as genuine contenders.