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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.