The missing players, the talent within the squad for 2019, the power of the press and the need for Stuart Lancaster to have a right-hand man if he's retained are all discussed

By Adam Hathaway

You get better if you are off the scene

Martin Johnson always says he becomes a better player the longer he is retired and the same applied to a few of the England boys who have been unavailable, or disciplined or completely ignored during this World Cup. According to the predictable fire-storm that occurred on Sunday morning Dylan Hartley, Luther Burrell, Steffon Armitage, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade could have kept England in the tournament and at least a couple of them would have given Stuart Lancaster a better chance of staying afloat.

Dylan Hartley

No angel: Dylan Hartley has had his scrapes but is undeniably a leader in the England squad

The loss of Hartley was the most damaging – and the decision not to pick him when he was only banned for the first game against Fiji seems more baffling by the minute. Hartley once told us he had two jobs as a hooker – to scrum well and throw in well. He is also a leader and you can’t imagine England chucking the ball to number two in the line-out, in the last knockings, against Wales if he was on the field.

Power of the press

Bob Dwyer was a shrewd cookie as a coach and is a shrewd cookie as an ally of the Wallabies when it comes to the lead-up of a big game. Dwyer went into print last week accusing Joe Marler of scrummaging illegally and although the England camp said they had faith in Saturday’s referee, Romain Poite, not to take any notice the Frenchman clearly did.

Joe Marler

Under scrutiny: Joe Marler’s scrummaging technique was openly questioned by Bob Dwyer

Poite was right in giving the scrum penalties he did against England, maybe Marler has been illegal for a while now and maybe Dwyer just gave Poite the nudge he needed. Players always say they don’t read the papers, perhaps the referees do.

Out of sight out of mind

Steffon Armitage, yes him again, has been the name of most people’s lips after the disaster of England’s breakdown on Saturday night. David Pocock and Michael Hooper slowed down England’s ball and won the lions’ share on the floor and Armitage is has a bit of form in those areas too. But there are a few things for those clamouring for a recall of the Toulon flanker. Firstly he knew the rules when he signed a new contract to stay in France in 2013, and he would not have been short of Premiership offers.

Steffon Armitage

Missing link: Toulon’s Steffon Armitage divides opinion like no other

Secondly, at Toulon, he plays most of his rugby on the front foot and that is a very different place for a back rower to be in than having to scrap around with momentum against you. And thirdly, Stuart Lancaster is not the first England head coach not to fancy him and fourthly Armitage is now 30, so you can write him out of a way back into the good books at Twickenham.

England have got talent

There are some talented players in England it is just when push comes to shove the current coaches don’t like picking them. You cannot quibble with the selection of Owen Farrell for the Wales match – England knew what was coming – but George Ford should have started against Australia and Danny Care must be wondering exactly what he has done wrong in the last couple of months.

Henry Slade

Unused: Henry Slade has showed rich promise and should be given a chance to shine

A back-line of Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Ford and Care would have done some damage to Australia and that is without the footballing skills of Kyle Eastmond who did not even make the squad. Slade and Care will probably get a run-out against Uruguay but it is all a bit late now.

Four more years for Lancaster?

Stuart Lancaster was not giving any clues about his future on Sunday morning – he was just concentrating on preparing a team to play Uruguay on Saturday (yep…I know) but Ian Ritchie, his boss hinted there would be some sort of change. If you don’t go down the radical route and throw the entire coaching staff out, and bring in a Clive Woodward or Nick Mallett as some kind of rugby overlord, and retain Lancaster he could probably do with a helping hand. The All Blacks have a team manager, Darren Shand, who has been in place since 2004 and deals with everything apart from the playing stuff.

Darrren Shand

Right-hand man: Darren Shand has acted as team manager for successive All Black coaches

England also have a team manager but Tom Stokes’ brief is not as wide-ranging as Shand’s. Shand is a key figure in the New Zealand staff, takes a lot of heat off the coaches and deals with things like discipline that, like it or not, have taken up quite a bit of the boss’s attention in the last few months. Lancaster, if he is retained, has enough on his plate trying to sort out his front and back rows and midfield and could do with ditching the rest of the nonsense– he could use a right-hand man who is not wearing a tracksuit.

 

  • John Armitage

    Let’s just look again at your analysis of the Steffon saga.

    Steffon did know the situation when he signed his current contract, but so did the England management. We know very well that the coaches keep in touch with players who are in their thoughts (they say so) … particularly those in contention. They never once made any contact to suggest a move back to England could assist his international prospects. Stuart Lancaster has only ever been in touch with Steffon twice … both times to confirm that he would not be selected. Things were clear enough.

    Steffon would have loved another chance with England but it hasn’t worked out so badly. With no reason to leave, why would Steffon give up a highly successful career at Toulon where he has thrived?

    I quite understand that much of the pressure for the protectionist policy comes from the clubs … it is cheaper. Now, ironically, the marketing power of the very England players that the clubs sought to handcuff is considerably diminished. I would not want to blame Stuart Lancaster who would have been a brave man to battle the combined weight of his own bosses and the clubs. It is said that he wanted to give both Steffon and Nick Abendanon a run in camp but was thwarted. I guess he wanted a closer look to see if he fancied them or not.

    I am not suggesting that Steffon would have saved the day, nor even that he would have even have made the squad but let’s be honest about the circumstances. And, he does do a pretty good Pocock impression … not always on the front foot as you would know if you watch Toulon.