By Rugby World reader, Mark Shanahan
Don’t bet on the Rose!!
I was at Twickenham on Saturday. Well I say Twickenham, I actually got as far as Feltham dropping off a business acquaintance lucky enough to have a ticket for the England v Ireland fixture. I wasn’t so lucky – but after driving through floods, was quite happy to be home on the sofa watching the green machine roll over the Red Rose warriors. This was a game England could have won. No, should have won. The forwards more than held their own but as for the backs….well, what is it that turns creative players like Care, Cueto, Armitage and Tait into automatons as soon as they pull on an England shirt?
I have a real problem with the England coaching set-up. Week-in and week out I watch the same players in the Premiership turn on the style: take on and beat opponents, defend on the edge and attack on the front foot. But not so when they play for England – and my view is that this has to be down to the coaching. Apart from in the line-out, England’s forwards more than held their own on Saturday. The ball wasn’t always quick, and Ireland’s players were cute when it came to delaying it. But England had good ball to work with – far more possession than their green counterparts. But the backs were one dimensional, and hampered further by the strange tactic of having Wilkinson take the ball so deep that every England move was going backwards before it ever got the chance to advance. The more I look at Jonny now, the more I question what he brings to a game other than his place kicking. Against Italy, even that was wayward. Isn’t it time for England to move on and look for a number 10 who will take give them an attacking platform at RWC 2011?
But it’s not just Jonny. Why isn’t Danny Care being told he needs to get his pass away quicker rather than scuttling several steps laterally before releasing the ball. Why are the centres being drilled only to run straight into contact or put up more aimless kicks. Why does the ball never get to the wingers in space? There appears to be a fear of failure instilled in the backs rather than a belief in backing themselves to outwit the opposition.
Johnson and his coaches seem risk-averse: play to the plan and don’t dare deviate. I hate to say it Johnno, but it’s not working. It’s dull to watch and won’t win games against sides like Ireland who are well-drilled but also play with freedom in attack and belief that they will score. Ireland had three real try-scoring chances and nailed them all. By contrast, England rarely looked really dangerous.
Two years out from the next World Cup, there’s no sign that Johnson has any plan as to how England can be winners. Too many players are in the side on past reputation than merited by current form – Borthwick among them – and those new faces who make the squad don’t seem trusted by the coaching triumvirate. Why on earth is Foden not starting for instance?
I hope Johnson will take off the blinkers in the last two matches of this Six Nations – but I’ll believe it when I see it. At the moment, the man with the permanently furrowed brow is making Brian Ashton look like the Messiah. If I were to bet on England to be the next RWC winners I’d probably get great odds. Frankly, I wouldn’t waste the stake money.