out with the old….
…in with the new England rugby union coach. Poor old Martin Johnson. Too mucha, too young as The Specials might have said. Not exactly thrown to The Lions (I doubt if that will ever happen now) but definitely thrown in at the deep end. Even being 6feet 8inches tall or whatever, while he was England coach he was always breathing through a hollow reed whilst submerged.
I was never a fan of his almost immediate elevation from player and captain (as amazing as he was) to coach, sort of upper ground floor to top with the lift missing out a couple of floors en route really.
If memory serves, the RFU missed out on Shaun Edwards and Jake White at the time of his appointment (and Eddie Jones?) as they meandered about looking for a decision like they were looking for ley lines with a bent up wire hanger. The mind boggles.
The appointment of Borthwick as captain set the tone early on. I know there wasn’t a lot to choose from but I think the majority of spectators saw that as a bit of a strange one. Almost backwards looking even as he begun.
Can anyone tell me how England play? Have they developed a coherent style or strategy that suits their players and plays to their strengths? No? Nor me. I think we all know how Wales, Scotland, Italy, SA or NZ play don’t we? England still fall into bad old habits of playing someone else’s game. The good teams impose their game on the opposition, England can rarely do that. Surely this would have been something we should have expected over his three years in charge?
The win in Aus against Aus (as welcome as that was) was less of a considered game plan or an adaptive approach that responded magnificently to wrest momentum and a win from the opponents – it smacked far more of a “Ah, sod it. Let’s just go for it.” mentality from the team. The win against them at Twickenham was in contrast perhaps the only time I really thought the players looked like a team with a plan and the players to execute it. A rarity since 2003.
The 6N in 2011 was an unexpected success and for a while I started to get those familiar feelings of excitement based on the possibility that something good might be about to happen. You know, like lying in bed on your birthday and Mrs Shafter wanders in from the shower and…then we played Ireland and she went straight to sleep. Frustrating on both counts but for slightly different reasons.
The game against Ireland really showed the lack of on field direction and flexibility. It showed that we still lacked the ability to impose ourselves on a game and that was transferred to the World Cup. Which was a debacle.
Firstly the players need a good shoeing for their off field shenanigans. Not that they should have been allowed to put themselves in those positions. Where are the management? Tindall should have been dropped the moment he was found out. He is the captain of the team. A hugely experienced player who it is hoped will help to nurture the talents we have emerging in the side. Great. As Tuilagi demonstrated, there is a definite need for this. This is not new either, let’s not forget Mike Brown et al from a few years back. There must be a change in culture for the England team to progress. That culture must be driven by a leader of men with a clear vision and a plan to achieve this. Martin Johnson obviously had the first criterion nailed, but not, I think, the second.
Whoever it is – and Eddie Jones and Jim Mallinder look likely to be the only two to contest the post at the moment (although the RFU have yet to contact either) – must arrive with a regime of professionalism and the ability to forge a flexible and intelligent team around key players and adopt a style that makes best use of those players and what is good about English rugby. No more looking to other teams and trying to emulate their styles…evolve our own and make others play our game.