Top Five Performances Of The 2010s: England
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The men in white.
If there is one thing we can be grateful for during the lockdown, it is various nations releasing full replays of past encounters over the years.
This has given us the chance to watch many games we have either forgotten about or simply want to revisit. And it’s got us thinking about some of the best performances of the decade by each team, starting with England…
5. France – 2015 Six Nations.
The final weekend of the 2015 Six Nations remains one the most exciting finishes to the competition in history, with Ireland, England and Wales all vying to claim the Championship.
After Wales recorded their biggest winning margin against Italy with a 20-61 victory, Ireland needed to win at Murrayfield by at least 21 points to eliminate Wales from the title picture and keep in the race themselves. This was achieved with a brilliant 10-40 win over Scotland to give the men in green the advantage. That left Stuart Lancaster’s men the challenge of needing to record a winning margin of 26 against France in the final match, a feat they had never previously accomplished.
Whilst Ben Youngs would give the hosts an early lead, France struck back twice in quick succession to lead 15-8 after just 18 minutes and make the challenge almost impossible. But England would fight back.
Anthony Watson and Youngs would both cross the whitewash, and George Ford struck two penalties to make it 27-15, the target suddenly within sight. Scores would then come thick and fast with either team playing sensational rugby (to recap every try in the match would be an entire article by itself!), and England would eventually lead 55-35 with 5 minutes to go, needing simply a converted try to claim to Championship.
Whilst they would eventually just fall short and allow Ireland to retain the title outright for the first time since 1949, this remains perhaps the most attacking performance England ever produced under Stuart Lancaster and saw them record their biggest winning margin against France until 2019.
4. Australia – 2016, 1st Test
After claiming their first Grand Slam since 2003 under a new coach in Eddie Jones, the men in white travelled to Australia for a three-test match series, having never won a series down under.
Mouths were watering as England sought to win in Brisbane for the very first time, and expectations were high for the Grand Slam champions. England would not disappoint. After falling behind 10-0 early on, Jones’ men would put in a hugely physical performance to overwhelm the Wallabies, as tries from Jonathan Joseph and Marland Yarde – as well as the boot of Owen Farrell – would make it 29-13.
Tries from Michael Hooper and Tevita Kuiridrani set up a tense finish, but a magnificent kick from George Ford saw Jack Nowell go over to give the visitors a 39-28 victory. England would go on to win the series 3-0, and whilst any performance could’ve featured on this list, but it was the confidence and physicality on display from the English in the first test that stood out in particular.
3. Australia – 2010 Autumn Internationals.
Each England Head Coach often has one defining win that wins admiration from the rest of the rugby world. For Eddie Jones, it was the 2019 World Cup Victory over New Zealand (spoiler alert…).
For Stuart Lancaster, it was a 2012 victory over the same side (spoiler alert…).
For Martin Johnson, it has to be the 35-18 victory over the Wallabies at Twickenham. Described by many pundits and journalists at the time as England’s best performance since 2003, this game is perhaps unfairly remembered simply for *that* Chris Ashton try. However, this try was merely representative of just how brilliant England were that day.
Coming off a defeat against New Zealand, England were criticised for their conservative and safe style of play in recent matches. What a difference a week can make. The hosts produced a scintillating performance with ball-in-hand, running the Australian backline ragged with offloads, slick passing, and quick ball provided by a baby-faced Ben Youngs.
Chris Ashton scored a brace, whilst Toby Flood kicked 25 points from the tee to achieve a record for an Englishman against the Wallabies. Sky Sports commentator Miles Harrison has said that Twickenham has never been so loud following the second Chris Ashton try, and if you go back and watch the game in full, you will see why.
2. New Zealand – 2012 Autumn Internationals.
Different team, same story. England had come off losses to Australia and South Africa, and as Harrison put it before the game: “the pressure of expectation for victory for England – well maybe externally at least – that is gone today”.
The centre partnership of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi was under-fire for their lack of creativity. The All Blacks, by contrast, were on a 20-game unbeaten streak and were looking to extend their reign of dominance over the rugby world.
Even with the All Blacks players struck down with a virus in the lead up to a game, expectations for England were low. Boy, how wrong we all were.
England were imposing from the off, putting in physical tackles and carrying well, capitalising on uncharacteristic misses from Dan Carter and forcing errors from the All Blacks, to take a scarcely believable 12-0 lead at half time from the boot of Owen Farrell. Another penalty would make it 15-0 and an unlikely victory was on the cards.
However, if there’s one thing we know in rugby, never write off the All Blacks. Stunned into action, Julian Savea and Kieran Read struck in the space of 3 minutes to make it 15-14 after 52 minutes, and alarm bells were ringing for England. Then came the onslaught from the home side.
First, Barritt and Tuilagi would combine in the centres to send the former over in the corner. Four minutes later, Tuilagi would thunder through three would-be tacklers in Carter, Ritchie McCaw and Aaron Smith (not a bad bunch of names to run through…) to send Chris Ashton sprinting over to give the hosts a 25-14 lead and send Twickenham into pandemonium.
Tuilagi then made it three England scores in eight minutes, intercepting a loose pass from Read to cross the whitewash. Whilst Savea would cross again late for a consolation score, England would secure a 38-21 victory.
It was their biggest winning margin against the All Blacks, and their finest win ever at Twickenham. England would not replicate another performance of that quality against New Zealand. Until…
1. New Zealand – 2019 Rugby World Cup
Come on, you all knew this was coming! Going into the Rugby World Cup, this was the game that everyone was talking about as a potential World Cup decider (look how that turned out!).
After squandering a 15-0 lead to the All Blacks to go down 15-16 the previous Autumn, England were out for revenge. Having strolled through the group stages with unconvincing wins against Tonga, the USA and Argentina, and the game against France cancelled due to the typhoon, England comprehensively beat the Wallabies in the quarter-final with their best showing yet.
The All Blacks started with a battling 23-13 win over eventual champions South Africa, whilst steamrollering Canada and Namibia, with their game against Italy, also cancelled. They then put Ireland to the sword in the knockouts with a brutal 46-14 win. The stage was set, and when England challenged the Haka with Farrell smirking the whole time, there was a buzz that this could be the game of the tournament!
Instead, it turned into possibly the most comprehensive demolition of a New Zealand side we have ever seen. It took England just 96 seconds to cross the whitewash through Manu Tuilagi, and they never looked back, taking a 10-0 lead at half time.
Even when Ardie Sevea pounced on a poor throw from Jamie George to make it 13-7, the then-defending world champions were simply not allowed to get properly into the game. England were physical at the breakdown, potent with the ball, and brutal without, constantly pushing New Zealand backwards in defence.
England had two tries from Sam Underhill and Ben Youngs correctly ruled out, but this made no difference in displaying just how one-sided the game was. The final score was 19-17, but with a few what-ifs, it could’ve been 33-0. This is easily England’s best performance of the decade, and possibly of all time.
What do you think is the best England performance of the 2010s was? Are there other teams you’d like us to explore in future articles?
Let us know in the comments below!