Myopic England look on bright side
Is there any situation Steve Borthwick wouldn't take "lots of positives" from? Getting mugged? Having his car keyed? Losing his house in a game of cards? I can picture him now, beaming across at his opponent and announcing: "I never liked that bathroom suite anyway".
Judging from some of the texts that poured in after England's narrow Six Nations defeat of Italy in Rome, there are plenty of you with a similar mindset to the England captain: "Stop bashing our brave boys", "a win is a win", that sort of stuff. I found these texts more depressing than the game itself.
But they open up an interesting philosophical, not to mention cultural, debate: does the England rugby team so often struggle to fulfil its potential, as measured by player numbers and financial clout, because of a deep-seated acceptance of mediocrity? I don't have a definitive answer, but I doubt many members of the New Zealand or South African public would be so sanguine after such a disjointed display by their team.
It should be acknowledged that in Rome on Sunday, Nick Mallett's Italy were a different side to the one that looked so insipid against Ireland last weekend. Muscular as always up front, they created quick ball at the breakdown and even showed flickers of ambition. But England should never have been clinging on for dear life at the death, they should already have been miles out of sight.
England captain Steve Borthwick said he took "lots of positives" from England's narrow win over Italy
One of the mantras of Martin Johnson's England side is "play rugby in the right areas", namely in the opposition's half. But there is more than one right area: when you field a long kick and there is one man in front of you with a supporting player outside, surely that, too, is a "right area"?
The frustration was that when England decided to counter, they looked dangerous. Delon Armitage, Mark Cueto and Ugo Monye are destructive broken play runners, and Johnson admitted afterwards that "when we countered, we were good". So why all the mindless kicking?
Jerry Guscott, the former England centre who was particularly adept at playing what he saw in front of him rather than blindly obeying orders, reckons England's back three have been "brainwashed". "Robots", he calls them, and scared of failure.
"Intelligence without ambition," someone once said, "is like a bird without wings". Which begs the question, does this England team have the requisite intelligence in the first place? The intelligence to think for themselves, to honestly appraise their failings?
Judging by the post-match interviews with a trio of England's players, Borthwick, Cueto and Riki Flutey, who declared himself "really happy" with the result, then the answer perhaps is no.
Johnson, too, appeared to be watching a different game. "We created some really good try-scoring chances," he said, before adding "there's plenty for us to get better at". I can relate to that second quote best.
Behind closed doors, the post-mortem will be more honest and more rigorous. But by trotting out the same old platitudes to England's fans, the players are eroding confidence. How can England improve, less jingoistic supporters will be asking themselves, if what was served up in Rome is deemed, in public at least, acceptable?
There is another philosophical question, which centres on the point of sport itself. Countering from deep can not only be a potent attacking weapon, it is also infinitely better to watch than 80 joyless minutes of aerial ping-pong.
Call me a hopeless romantic, call me a dinosaur, but when you've got 30,000 fans in the stadium and millions watching world-wide, surely there is some duty to entertain? "A win is a win" is the sporting equivalent of meat and potatoes: it fills a hole, but it's not likely to make the heart sing.
On Saturday, France showed against Ireland that a combination of the practical and the more poetic can be both beguiling and devastating. But maybe I'm missing the point altogether and France's players are simply more talented: Team A beat Team B because they had better players... sports journalism could be so much more succinct.
Johnson should have some big decisions to make before England's next game against Ireland at Twickenham in a fortnight. Is Jonny Wilkinson still the man at fly-half, or should Toby Flood be given a chance? Is Borthwick the right leader in a crisis? I say "should", because Johnson is loyal to a fault and won't change a jot.
Still, look on the bright side: England have two wins out of two and the Grand Slam is still on... no, I just can't do it Steve, teach me the power of positive thinking...