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Austin Healey: Don’t play Joseph unless he’s 100 per cent fit

| 01.10.2015

It’s now been confirmed that in the wake of the defeat to Wales last weekend Jonathan Joseph is to be fast-tracked back from the injury that originally ruled him out for three weeks.

I know this is tempting with the Australia game now a make or break situation but I can’t stress enough how it’s the wrong move unless he is 100 per cent fit.

We have to have a long-term plan and think if we beat Australia, and we beat Uruguay, we could still win the group and that means a quarter-final and a semi-final to plan for and we’ll need him for those games.

If he’s 80 or 90 per cent don’t play him, give him time to get back to 100 per cent and then bring him back but no matter what you do – don’t play Brad Barritt and Sam Burgess together.

They tried that against Wales and as I predicted last week it just didn’t work.

Criticism for playing for the win is unfair

On the subject of the Wales game I think there has been a lot of unfair criticism about the decision to go for the win in the dying stages.

If England had kicked for the corner, and then thrown to the back and driven Wales over to score the try there would have been elation at Twickenham and it would have gone down as the correct decision.

It’s easy to be a critic in hindsight but the atmosphere at Twickenham and the energy of the game suggested they should go for it.

It wasn’t an easy kick so there were no guarantees and I’m a bit surprised that everyone is jumping on Chris Robshaw’s back about it. I think ultimately it was the right decision but it was poorly executed.

I was a little disappointed, however, to see Stuart Lancaster distance himself from the decision after the game. To be fair you sometimes say things when you’re under pressure that you look back on and think “I shouldn’t have said that” and I’m sure Stuart Lancaster knows he was part of that decision.

It doesn’t sit well though and it’s the first time we’ve really seen a “them and us” mentality from the England coaching staff and I think on reflection the manager will be disappointed with how that came out.

Selections will be key once again – Lancaster has to get it right

Burgess also took some stick for his performance but again I think a lot of it was unfair. He nullified Jamie Roberts who wasn’t effective until Burgess went off.

We have learnt a few things about Burgess though. We now know he can’t kick and shouldn’t be asked to do so. That could just be the pressure of the environment though and the fact that he’s effectively learning a new sport.

We also know he doesn’t like to distribute the ball from his left hand either but those two things aside I think the positives far outweighed the negatives on his first start.

The disappointment was the decision to play Barritt out of position and ask him to defend. It’s a completely different scenario defending at 13 than it is at 12 and that is what cost us the game.

If we’d have had a fit Jonathan Joseph there we wouldn’t have conceded that last try because the man who breaks round the outside wouldn’t have had the space.

I would play Henry Slade at 13 with Burgess as we saw in one of the warm up matches.

I said last week that Owen Farrell wouldn’t be in my starting line-up but it worked well until the last 20 minutes so he was another positive to take form the game.

He was very steady and uncompromising defensively and you know what you’re getting with these selections but unfortunately what you’re not seeing from the England coaching staff is them manipulating the surroundings to get the best of both worlds.

If you have got Burgess and Barritt playing why not play them at 10 and 12 and stand Ford out wide to get more of an attacking game. The tough decision now is who to pick and who to drop.

The worrying thing is we’re starting to see mistakes form the coaching staff in regard to both selection and tactics.

Having said that for 60 minutes England were very efficient and in control but then suffered a couple of injuries to Ben Youngs and Richard Wigglesworth.

The latter took a heavy knock to the head and I was watching him and he wasn’t able to track across like he would do normally so we lost our cover defence and our base. So we had our injury problems as well as the Welsh, they just responded to it better.

We need to be positive as England bowing out will be a massive blow for the tournament

It will be an absolute travesty for the tournament if the host nation goes out in the group stages. It would disappear from all the back pages of the English papers and people would stop talking about it.  It’s good for the tournament, and the sport in general, if the host teams stays in.

But we need to start thinking clearly and more positively. There’s been an awful lot of negative energy both in the squad and in Stuart Lancaster’s selection in the last game.

It was a stopping selection against Wales and while it looked like it was working for a time it sets a bad energy. We should be saying “we’re at home with an amazing atmosphere so we’re going to smash teams.”

In the wake of the defeat there has been speculation about the futures of the manager and the captain but I think conversations like that need to wait until after the Australia game as it only adds to the pressure.

Let’s get behind them and say “come on lads, you haven’t become bad players overnight, you’re at home, let’s see what we can do”.

If they then lose some hard questions will be asked but let’s worry about that when we have to and focus on being positive at the moment.

I think we’re in for a big points haul in the next match. Our back three is better than theirs – aside from Falou – and we’re strong outside too so we should try to pressurise them. We need to sort our driving game out but overall we have the strength I think we need to beat them and beat them well. A bonus point could win us the group and that is within our grasp.

Let’s all stay positive until such time where this team lets itself down but it shouldn’t do as it has all the right components to come good.

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Austin Healey

As a former England and British Lions star with experience playing in both the World Cup and Six Nations tournaments few people are better placed to pass comment on international rugby union. Read Austin's thoughts on the 2015 World Cup exclusively at Ladbrokes News.