By Rugby World reader, Mark Shanahan
I’m weighing up whether I can even be bothered to give up my Saturday evening to watch England take on France. While I’d love to be in Paris, a wife, three kids and a mortgage dictate that at best I’ll be on the sofa. Being Lent, I won’t even have a beer in hand. It’ll be a can of coke and a bag of peanuts. Maybe I’d be better off fixing the loo which now sounds like the foghorn on the Queen Mary every time it’s flushed?
I should be excited at the prospect of Foden at 15 and Ashton starting on the wing. But I can’t rouse any passion for this England team – this team that prepares itself for the next RWC by recalling Tindall and Shaw. No other country in World Rugby is building for the future by looking backwards to its past glory. Okay, so Jonny’s dropped to the bench – hurrah – but would that even have happened – and would Monye and Armitage be back at their clubs if one of Flood’s kicks had gone over last weekend?
Only France and to an extent, Ireland, seem to be getting their ducks in order in the Northern hemisphere ahead of the next World Cup campaign. France have been a pleasure to watch in this Six Nations – pragmatic in their own half and ever-dangerous once in opposition territory. Marc Lievremont has been accused of being a ‘tinkerman’ with his squad, but he’s stayed true to picking players on form and learning who can step up to the mark at international level. He’s now in the enviable position of being able to leave Marty on the bench on Saturday night – despite the Centre’s double try scoring performance just a week ago.
Declan Kidney’s a canny character too. With a fraction of the players to choose from in comparison to France or England, he’s assembling a squad where there’s someone capable of stepping into any position without much damage to the style and effectiveness of the set-up. No Fitzgerald? No problem: step up Keith Earls. O’Gara off his game? Welcome Jonathan Sexton. Props getting long in the tooth? Why not bring in Heineken winner Cian Healey?
Wales and Scotland have gone backwards this campaign; Italy are treading water in the shallows. But England are the big, boring, dull disappointment. They play rugby in the wrong parts of the pitch and when plan A (whatever that may be) fails, they haven’t a clue what plan B might be. The squad selection is farcical (what’s the point of the Saxons), and any semblance of building for the future seems far beyond the furrowed brow of Martin Johnson or the Teflon-coated Rob Andrew.
Johnson is an object lesson to demonstrate that a great Captain has no right to become a great coach. The RFU have got the whole coaching situation very wrong – but are far too cussed a bunch to own up to their own failings.
France will win easily on Saturday night. But will it make a jot of difference at Twickenham Towers? Sadly, I doubt it.