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Time for England to make changes

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Ben Dirs | 22:06 UK time, Saturday, 13 March 2010

The final 10 minutes of Saturday's Calcutta Cup match resembled two bald men fighting over a wig, both sides desperate to secure a win that might have partially concealed their inadequacies, inadequacies that were all too glaring under the Murrayfield lights.

Andy Robinson bristled when it was suggested the match hadn't been much of a spectacle - "I was very entertained," said the Scotland coach, "and the players will tell you it was very dynamic" - but those who paid 70 quid for the privilege would surely have disagreed. As one Scotsman said to me at the final whistle, "Why the glum face? At least it's over..."

The buzzword at the post-match press conference was "frustration": at the result, at the number of mistakes made, at wrong options taken - again and again and again.

England defended poorly, while Johnson looked on

England manager Martin Johnson was at least more honest, admitting it "wasn't a great game to watch", but there was more than a hint of delusion in his insistence that his side could have won if they had taken their chances. Try telling that to Scotland fly-half Dan Parks, who twice hit the upright with penalty attempts.

England were also very fortunate to be awarded one penalty bang in front of the posts, while wing Mark Cueto could easily have been sin-binned for killing the ball, moments after captain Steve Borthwick had been told by referee Marius Jonker that the next culprit would be carded.

In fairness to Scotland, they at least tried to play some rugby in the first half, putting width on the ball, stringing phases together, not always opting to take the ball into contact and striving to keep it alive. They were aided by some sloppy England defending, with the final tally reading 103 tackles made, 12 tackles missed.

If England's defence was porous, in attack they were about as sharp as a balloon. England's backs are often likened to robots, but that's giving robots a bad name: robots are programmed to be efficient, to be clinical, not to make mistakes.

Since beating Wales on the opening Six Nations weekend, Johnson's side have scored two tries in three matches, proof the midfield axis of Jonny Wilkinson and Riki Flutey is simply not working. But Johnson is a man crippled by caution, hamstrung by loyalty, and deeply suspicious of change.

His decision not to make changes at the break was baffling, especially as when Ben Foden did replace Delon Armitage 10 minutes into the half, he was like a breath of fresh air combined with a breeze block, it that's at all possible. Just ask Scotland lock Alastair Kellock, who will attest that tackling the Northampton full-back in full flight is akin to opening a letter bomb.

Armitage personified the deep-seated dissatisfaction that permeates this England side, taking an age to leave the field when replaced by Foden before slumping in the dugout, with only his frustrations for company. Judging by Johnson's effusive assessment of Foden's contribution, it could be some time before Armitage is back in the side.

Johnson is highly unlikely to dispense with Borthwick for next week's encounter with France in Paris, but the Saracens lock must be able to hear the death rattle. It is obvious Johnson views Borthwick as a man made in his own image, but Johnson's bathroom mirror must be of the fairground variety.

If the tenor of a rugby team is dictated by its captain, then it is no surprise this current England outfit lack the necessary brio. Borthwick is a good man, but the best captains are much more than good men: they are immensely talented, they are street-wise and they can be nasty. In Paris, England will need to be all three if, as Johnson acknowledged, they don't want it to turn into "a very long night".

The noises coming out of the England camp ahead of that game don't exactly inspire confidence. With the French targeting their first Grand Slam since 2004, Johnson spoke of not wanting to be "blown away", while fly-half Toby Flood said they'd go there "to spoil". Hardly the stuff to stir dreams of an upset in Paris.

Before the match between Scotland and England, there was talk in the papers of spectators being taken back to the Dark Ages. Damn those Murrayfield floodlights - if only it had been. Dark, that is.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    It was an incredibly awful performance from both sides. I would be really upset if I spent any money seeing that game. England just show now imagination or style anymore, it is like that have been turned into a formula of rugby. we must kick, attack then see the opposition make a mistake. I am sorry but Johnson needs to go and soon otherwise 2012 World cup they will be lucky to get out of group stage.

  • Comment number 2.

    Scotland played the better rugby and probably deserved to win.

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't think Johnson has the management experience to fully convey what he wants the team to do, and probably has a lot of tactical naivety.

    Need someone who drills the hell out of them, lets them no in no uncertain terms what he wants done.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hah, good blog. Some of the one liners were hilarious (fairground mirror reference, floodlights, etc). :D

    It was a poor game until the last 10-15 minutes, and it's certainly worth taking note of the fact that England improved once Foden came on. I'm not a fan of the rugby we're playing under Johnson at all, it's just so negative and depressing. :/ I'm not sure I agree with calls to get rid of him, though, despite what Matt says. Remember how well we did in the last World Cup when the team was being roundly criticised and Ashton was under pressure? Exactly.

  • Comment number 5.

    I completely agree with your assessment of England's, and more importantly Martin Johnson's, performance. The game was woeful but the saving grace of of the draw would be if Johnson's was removed from his position. I, like the rest of the country, admired Johnson the player but to then give hime the job with no prior experience was a sentimental and romantic decision, not a logical one. The rumours before the tournament were that if England failed to secure three victories then Johnson would pay the price with his job. With two wins, a loss and a draw (a record that somewhat covers the lackluster performances thus far) and a very difficult test in Paris still to come it would seem that England will come up short of the three win target and this would not necessarily be a terrible thing. Johnson needs to go and changes in personnel and tactics must be addressed... asap!

  • Comment number 6.

    Ben,

    This is a team of mirrors. The lumbering uninspiring Borthwick reflecting uninspiring management which reflects the awfulness that is the English team.

    I wonder who you would rather be Andy Robinson or MJ? At least with Robinson his team has seen progression; but you are right in this game the only 'dynamic' thing was Robinson's tirade caught on camera. Hilarious.

    MJ has spent 18 months with his eyes closed and I think is now proven to be utterly inadequate for this job, perhaps you should apply?

    In defense of both teams, this fixture is always tight and ususally won on penalities however competent the teams are.

  • Comment number 7.

    The fact of the matter is the team is simply not good enough. As individuals there's not one player in that starting 15 that you could say is World Class. People can blame Johnno all they like but that simple fact remains.

    Is he getting the best out of them? Probably not. Why Brian Ashton was sacked in the first place is still a mystery.

  • Comment number 8.

    The most pitiable aspect is that the ambition of England is merely to beat the likes of Scotland and Ireland even by a point.

    I understand some of Johnson's reasoning that tight limited rugby will look better in a world cup but he's hardly building up to one - plus at some level we need to be entertained by more than close matches surely?

    Yes with a fly half who could kick from hand and was better at goal kicking (we had one of the worst statistically) England could even have won the last world cup with a execrable game plan but surely the next world cup will be more competitive. The rules have changed as well. Plus who knows what South Africa could have found if they had to in the final.

    On Johnson I have a view if someone knows something they will somehow let it out no matter how taciturn they are. Johnson in years as a pundit, captain or manager has never once said anything I found contained a sliver of understanding or insight - nothing beyond the bleedin' obvious or just downright nonsense. It's not essential but it means the focus has to be on the team around him. His judgemental nature when he appears from the outside to have little deep personal understanding of the game is a further contradiction. What criteria does he have to judge anyone?

    Personally as someone half Welsh and English I have appreciated neither sides approach.

    One seems to desire under-dogism so much it's got ridiculous - Sexton cleverly missing goals so the lead was not the magic 14 until 3 minutes ago totally confused Wales about when to start the come back.

    The other takes decent rugby players and turns them into a team who appear like they met yesterday and like the England football team between 1984 and 2004 to try to score through as few players (i.e. one) as possible even though the rules do not actually enforce such a handicap on teams and no other team seems to handicap themselves as such.

  • Comment number 9.

    As an England fan you shake your head in disbelief. Dreary penalties, wrong options, wrong captain, losing the ball in attacking positions, incredibly slow scrum half feed from the ruck - I presume Danny Care has been told that's how he must play - but so dull and error prone. If they kick the ball away, they have tackle practice. The Leicester coaching axis is stifling any form of creativity. When the ball is moved about they look a different side. Look after the ball. Foden must play every game.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think poster 1 means the 2011 world cup, if only we had an extra year to sort this out.

    This match was the worst I've seen in a long while. Agree with the robots comments. This team can't think for themselves or stick to a plan. What really seems to be the point?

    The team has actually gone backwards. I don't know who remembers the demolition of France last year (it feels to me a million years ago) but that victory was supposed to be the encouraging sign of things to come. It was actually a one off blip.

  • Comment number 11.

    I hate to compare rugby with football but i'm led to believe that Englands manager Capello has picked his side based on league performance. Why can't Johnson? I think its time to stop relying on experience and start becoming adventurous with his selections!

  • Comment number 12.

    Basically we need to change everything coaching staff and first team.
    don't know about staff
    team
    15. FOden
    14.Monye
    13.tait
    12.flutey
    11.cueto
    10.cipriani-after he sorts his defence out in aussie land
    9.ellis
    1.Sheridan
    2. hartley
    3. Matt someone-currently banned for use of cocaine,plays for bath
    4.shaw
    5.courtney lawes
    6.tom croft
    7.joe worsely
    8.easter

  • Comment number 13.

    3.matt stevens

  • Comment number 14.

    Our major problem as collective England supporters on this website, is the inability to realise that the current England team is simply not very good. It was nice to see Toby Flood play today and hopefully prove to a few people just how ineffective he is and how much better JW is, I have no doubt we would have won by 6 points if he was on the pitch! terrible drop goal attempt at the end. Its the 7th six nations in a row ive felt a sense of dissapointment and why? the 15 players at our disposal are not good enough collectively

  • Comment number 15.

    The only benefit I could see to the lack of changes was the chance that a settled team might click, but I can only laugh at my naive optimism. Things actually seem to be getting worse.

    At the heart of rugby is a willingness to put your body on the line and not enough of the England players seemed to want to do it. There were a shocking number of missed tackles and the forwards managed very little ball carrying. When they came on, Foden, Flood, Thompson and Moody showed up many of the starting line up.

    Armitage was lifeless and I don't remember him running the ball once. Monye did nothing and didn't even get the chance to ignore his support runners. Flutey (a great player when he's on form) caused massive problems by standing far too far from Wilkinson and all the backs were standing far too deep making it nigh on impossible to get over the gain line. Watching Paul O'Connell's storming performance for Ireland showed just how far off being a talismanic, leading-by-example second row Borthwick is. And if talking is his strong point, why can't he get his team to stop giving away stupid penalties?

    France are a very worrying prospect. Especially as I can see Johnson opting to batten down the hatches and opt for a safety-first, forward-heavy approach. Whatever Johnson does, he'll have to start with Foden next weekend.

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree Borthwick must go and Foden must start every game, perhaps give Ashton a try aswell on the wing, and Ben Youngs instead of Care. I believe the Forwards arent doing the job, we are constantly being turned over and they arent giving the backs enough chances to score the trys

  • Comment number 17.

    I thought it was an immensely entertaining, nerve shredding match. I was not bored for one moment. Frustrated maybe, but never bored.

    Scotland played some terrific rugby and had the better of the chances. I was disappointed to see Dan Park's 2 feeble drop goal attempts go so wide when Scotland clearly needed to stick the ball under their jumper a lot longer to give him a better range. Some of the rugby was courageous and some of it was nervy and flighty.

    England should consider themselves very fortunate to escape Murrayfield with a draw.

  • Comment number 18.

    The point was made in commentary that when Johnny gets the ball he is completely starved of support with the other backs so far away from him, yet people seem to be slating Wilkinson while Flutey barely gets a mention?? The service from Care just isn't good enough but in defence of Care our forwards are simply too slow to the breakdown and we rarely commit enough men because of our fear of being caught on the break. We've got the players amongst the backs to cause huge problems in theory, so it must be the tactics that are wrong. Agree that Foden was a breath of fresh air, am getting sick of the sight of the lumbering idiot Easter in an England shirt can anyone suggest someone to replace him?

  • Comment number 19.

    Really good Blog Ben.

    Very hard to see how England can take any satisfaction from this years Six Nations. No progression has been made and not even an arm wrestle wine over the French can save Johnson at this stage.

  • Comment number 20.


    Another painful performance by England. I am worried by Johnson's loyalty to players who are simply not cutting it. England will never hit the heights of 2000 again with Steve Borthwick as captain. The backs are simply not good enough. Ben Foden has shown in afew minutes in the England jersey why he should be our first choice full back, while Olly Morgan should be on the bench. Ben Youngs is by far the best scrum half in England, he is a special talent who should be thrown into the international arena now. Im am a huge Jonny Wilkinson fan and ive always defended him, but i really do think that England should look at building a team around a new number 10. Whilst Danny Cipriani is obviously not well liked in the England set up, he clearly is a real talent, his pace and arogance would make him a dangerous customer for any international side, he just needs to learn to tackle a bit!
    As for the Wings, Mark Cueto try's his heart out everygame, and always puts in a solid performannce, but Ugo Monye really isnt playing well at all. I would love to see a combination of Chris Ashton and James Simpson Daniel, two prolific try scorers.
    The centres are also not firing at all, but i would like England to stick with Matthew Tait. Shontayne Hape would be a great inside centre i think, he vision, balance and power would be much welcomed in the side. England need a powerful centre much like Wales Jamie Roberts, someone who will take them over the gain line, Ricky Flutey is to lightweight for that.

  • Comment number 21.

    What I find totally shocking is you expect MJ to produce more from a poor set of players. You can't make a silk purse from a sows ear.

    I watched the game today and noticed something, so I watched the other matches I had on sky + and it is a recurring theme. Yes Johnny may stand a bit deep however Riki Flutey stands so far away from Johnny he may as well be in parking lot. Why he has to stand so far is totally beyond me.

    Danny Care, when Johnny is on he picks the ball up from a ruck takes two or three steps then passes, no idea why yet when Toby Flood came on he passes from the base of the ruck.

    What I find totally beyond me is the desire to get people doing things beyond the basics. Get the basics right first then work on other things.

    Get our forwards securing the ball first and foremost, get the props and locks hitting rucks instead of waiting for the ball. Get Haskell into the game, today the only time I saw him was when he walked off the pitch, God oh for Tom Croft to have been fit.

    Within English rugby there is the potential to get people playing, for those who claim MJ isn't the answer, I offer you this. He was the best onfield General rugby has ever seen, a top quality tactician who could react to what was happening around him without the influence of the bench. All he needs to do is find a him within our game and that will take time, we won a world cup on the back of a team that had been together for ages. We now find our self in a position where no patience is given to building a new side and our media is full of ex professionals who are bitter about the playing day success of the management team/old playing staff we have.

  • Comment number 22.

    I was going to go to the game with a mate - glad we saved our money, dire!

    I am surprised no-one mentioned the ref as I think his control of the game was very weak. It would be interesting to see how much of the game was taken up setting scrums.

    The new rules around the tackle I don't think are helping. If you tackle someone 5m out you are not going to release them so that they can get back to their feet and claim the tackle was not complete. Game plan with this new rule seems to be get into the 22 and you are almost certainly going to get a penalty.

    Not sure I now have the patience to watch the next game against France :-(

  • Comment number 23.

    Listening to Keith Wood talk about BOD was really interesting, particularly talking about always feeling like they had a chance, because they had "a bit of magic in the back line". Unfortunately, England have none of that magic. So how do we inject some? We have, I think, ten games before the World Cup starts, and a summer to build in. There is still time to save this side.

    We need to look at the Premiership (in England and France) and see who the players are that have a bit of spark, some inventiveness, and have the ability to play what is in front of them. My suggestions are:

    Foden
    Strettle
    Tait
    Simpson-Daniel
    Jon Clarke
    Cipriani (unavailable now unfortunately)
    Geraghty
    Waldouck
    Cato
    Care

    I'm sure there are more, but those are off the top of my head. People will say that they are inexperienced and don't have the nous to "close out games" - so give them a year of test rugby, plus the couple of games against minnows in the world cup to get themselves more experience. The great backs are the ones who do not have their natural talent muffled by coaches, but have it encouraged. My worry is that if Foden is put into this England set up he will do exactly what Armitage has done: have a great first year then go ordinary after the spark is coached out of him.

    We need to get Mike Catt in as attack coach as soon as possible. Him and Brian Ashton are the only coaches I can think of who actively encourage players to express themselves and actually think.

    I'm a big Wilkinson fan - England would have won today had he stayed on, if only because he would have kicked the goals, but the guy does not spark a backline, he slows it down by standing too deep and not looking ahead of him. He is a machine, not a spark. Geraghty should be at 10, he is inventive and talented. The tactical nous will come. Wilkinson was great in a team that had other sparks in it (Greenwood, Catt, Dawson, Robinson).

    Monye should go - when was the last time we saw him take his man on and beat him? When did we last see him running at full tilt? He has searing pace, why is he not using it? Cueto is another who is solid, but it not going to beat his man on the outside to score a try, he is not quick enough. Wingers should be the quickest on the field.

    It's been said before, but the players are too afraid to make mistakes. They need to be told that it really doesn't matter at all if they lose, what is important is to play the right brand of rugby, if you do that the results will take care of themselves eventually.

    Also, a great tackler though Worsley is, who ever heard of picking a 7 who wont and cant carry the ball in two hands? The modern flanker is not a wrecker, he is an athlete who could pass as a back, look at Wallace/Williams/Smith/McCaw/Heaslip/Burger etc etc

    We have to stop picking players because they are "experienced" or "reliable". Why do we pick teams to try and avoid losing rather than to win games?

    My team for the world cup - though not immediately!:

    1. Sheriden
    2. Hartley
    3. Stevens (he'll be back in time)
    4. Lawes
    5. Shaw
    6. Croft
    7. Moody
    8. Haskell (but I'm hoping Dan Ward-Smith comes back)
    9. Care
    10. Geraghty
    11. Simpson-Daniel
    12. Waldouck
    13. Tait
    14. Strettle
    15. Foden

    Thoughts?

    (great blog Ben, by the way, as usual!)

  • Comment number 24.

    @21 - spot on, how would any coach do much better with the same players?

    So Ben - lets say Johnson makes 9 changes and England get thrashed by 50 points, will you praise him for trying something new?

    No of course you won't, you will say he is a poor judge and England need to stick with what they know.

    As a journalist it is always too easy to sit and criticise but I see zero suggestions how to improve things, perhaps your blog would be different from the standard tabloid if you actually had some constructive ideas but then again you write for the BBC so that says it all.

  • Comment number 25.

    The other problem, one that cannot be solved, is that the Premiership has too many clubs. Every top side in the world has one thing in common: There are a handful of professional sides in the country. The Irish, Australian, Kiwi, and South African sides are all made up of only a few club sides, meaning that the best players in the country are playing together week in, week out.

    Is it any coincidence that the Scottish team are starting to improve now that the Scottish side is made up almost completely of two professional club sides? The Welsh would beat every team if only they could play for 80 minutes.

    In England the best players are playing with very average club players every week, not other hugely talented players, meaning that not only are they not developing understandings, they are not being tested or developing their skills.

    Until the Premiership is shrunk, or a version of the Super 15 is introduced, we will get the occasional really good England side, like 2003, but then a mediocre side made up of potentially really good players.

  • Comment number 26.

    Bring back Clive Woodward!

  • Comment number 27.

    I don't think its a particularly good blog at all.

    Not much in the way of insight and full of snide remarks and "put down" one liners. Easily written by anyone with a gripe and a lower pass in GCE English. If you've read any of Ben Dirs' other blogs you'll see a common whinge but nothing constructive.

    Nice line about "..why the glum face etc," why the glum face indeed as it's a dead cert you didn't pay for YOUR ticket.

    I'm not happy with the way England played and Scotland were the better team (even if their fans were appalling) though they didn't necessarily deserve to win. England were the better team against Ireland but didn't win.

    We all get frustrated at the way things are going with England and you only have to read the various posts to see how the fans understand the game and can't understand why the glaringly obvious is not sorted out. But you also only have to read some of the Welsh, Scots, Irish, Australian and NZ posts to see the same thing when they don't perform.

    We've done the same over the cricket and football for years, nothing new here at all, but lets have some insight and logic Dirs instead of smart alec "balloon" and "breeze block" metaphors.

    I thought England would win well in an hard fought game. I was right on the hard fought game.

    As for Johnny, in my opinion you can only replace him if you have someone who is vastly superior and not just maybe a little bit better now and again.

    I still Fancy us against France..........but hope someone else writes the blog.

  • Comment number 28.

    15. Morgan
    14. Foden
    13. Tindall
    12. J Clarke
    11. Ashton
    10. Wilkinson
    9. Youngs
    8. Easter
    7. Rees
    6. Robshaw
    5. Lawes
    4. Shaw
    3. Cole
    2. Hartley
    1. Sheridan

    If we are looking to the next world cup this would be my team this summer assuming everybody is fit. Its time we stopped picking players due to their performance in the gym and got back to picking rugby players. Names such as Haskell,Monye,Noon,Deacon etc should never have put on an international rugby jersey, there are 10yr olds with better basic skills! Shame on the rfu and its selection criteria at grassroots rugby!

  • Comment number 29.

    I am a bit disappointed in the writing for this blog due to the impartiality with most of the writing aimed towards an English audience. Apart from the introduction and comment from the Scot not a lot was mentioned about how the Scottish setup was and how this leaves their campaign in a bit of a mess.

    I understand the majority of readers will probably be English however it is nice to have a little analysis on the Scottish side of things which is something I reckon the majority of English and neutrals would prefer in an article describing a match they haven't seen.

  • Comment number 30.

    The IRB just don't get it. Professional rugby is all about providing a spectacle for the live and TV spectators who pay for it. The 6 Nations has frequently proved boring because of the IRB's failure to simplify instead of complicate the Rules of Rugby to the extent that players, match officials and spectators can no longer understand them.

    They should dig a copy of the oldest Rules out of their archives and use them as a basis for a total review. If they don't, we should start afresh with a rival "Real Rugby" game and get back to basics.

    Simple enforceable Rules; no forward passes, no offside, no tackling above the shoulders or in the air, no obstruction and otherwise just get on with it!

  • Comment number 31.

    The solution is in a southern hemisphere coach.

  • Comment number 32.

    "At 11.30 we'll have the highlights from Murrayfield. At 11.31 we'll have extended highlights of day 2 the World Fence Painting Championships from Hemel Hempstead, when in the drying phase the shadow from a tree causes mayhem...."
    The only highlight from an England point of view was seeing Courtney Lawes towering over Borthwick. Let's hope that he gets more than five minutes in the next year...

  • Comment number 33.

    Too much focus on bring back Ashton, Woodward, etc. The facts are that the current crop of English players is not good enough. This is consistent with most of England's rugby history where a few years of excellence (Carling's era, Johnson's era culminating in the RWC2003) have been interspersed with longer periods of average / inconsistent rugby. Arguably, save for NZ and Aus, this has been the case for most rugby sides. So whilst frustration is understandable, some perspective is required to appreciate where England are. And that is that that the current generation are not quite up to it. And the RFU also have much to blame in terms of the opportunity they wasted post RWC2003 to put in place structures that aimed at mid-to-long term excellence. Beyond that, you can ask for Ashton and Woodward as much as you want but I doubt that they would get much more out of the players than Johnson is doing.

  • Comment number 34.

    Jake White was a shoe-in for coach but England scorned his valuable services over sentimentality for the face of a WC winning captain with absolutely no experience or skills as a manager. Now England are reaping the rewards of such a naive decision. England will be lucky to emerge from their WC group in NZ and no one will be surprised.

  • Comment number 35.

    Yes, England are hardly brimming over with world class talent as "namuncura" mentioned, but when given lemons don't produce dirty dishwater as was the case yesterday.

  • Comment number 36.

    Martin, you're a legend in everyone's eyes and we'll never forget Sydney and all the times you "fronted up" for the English rose.

    However coaching is a different thing, time to bash on the keyboard with those chunky fingers, print off and put your signature on it and fall on your sword the honourable way.

    Lets remember you for the right reasons.

  • Comment number 37.

    I went to see DKRFC play Nuneaton old eds yesterday before the Calcutta cup match. It was an exponentially better game than the Calcutta cup debacle to watch. Running lines, support runners, offloading, a ref who booked after ONE warning made for a very fine match.

    The The SH teams much be laughing like drains watching THAT mess.

  • Comment number 38.

    Yes, yes...we were rubbish, Scotland were great, blah blah blah.

    2010 is not our year....and I hope MJ now starts to plan a team to build for the WC next year.

    We talk of a spark, a saviour who may inject some dynamism to the England game. I have just the man; Phil Dowson at number 8. The guy is prob the best forward playing in England at the moment.

    Our scrum needs to get sorted. Rowntree is a horrendous scrum coach and should be shot for treason! For what it is worth, here is my team for WC:

    Foden
    Ashton
    Tait (I think he is developing nicely as an outside centre)
    Gerraghty (he just needs to calm himself on the big occassion)
    Banahan (if only for his height so we can try some cross field kicks)
    Wilkinson (the guy is still the best number 10 we have)

    Sheridan (awesome when fit)
    Thompson (should be captain)
    Dan Cole
    Kennedy (better than borthwick at line out)
    Shaw (sheer powerhouse)
    Croft (other option at lineout)
    Worsley (you cannot not put the best tackler in the world in the team)
    Dowson (England's saviour....Northampton are where they are because of him)

    Ready to discuss with fellow countrymen, and to be brutlaised and accused of "arrogance" by the celts! ;-)

  • Comment number 39.

    They have got really poor players, the only team worse than them for definate is Italy.

    England also play incredibly boring rugby, it is so slow it bores me to tears, at least try to immitate Wales so we can lose in style!!

  • Comment number 40.

    In reality we dont take Rugby nearly as seriously as the Southern Hemesphere countries who have better facilities and put far more thought into how to play the game well. We got lucky with a particularly good crop of players in 2003. Watch Super 14 compared to any Northern Hemeshpere rugby, its faster, more interesting and far superior to the boring slow brand of rugby enland play. Its way more than the coach we need to change if we want to produce exiting rubgy teams.

  • Comment number 41.

    Smudgey90....this is an England blog about england needing to make changes. What did you expect exactly?

    I am sure there will be a scotland one in due course.

  • Comment number 42.

    OH and further to my WC team....Youngs as Scrum Half

  • Comment number 43.

    Good blog Ben.Namuncura is correct in his assessment.England,and all other 5 Nations teams, (I exclude Italy)have had long periods,and I am talking of years here,when they were unable or incapable of producing consistant winning rugby,The much vaunted England training and preperation set up (not to mention having the highest top class player base in world rugby) has failed to produce such a team,largely I suspect through extreme caution in selecting and sticking with young and naturally talented players.What is the point of giving Lawes,Foden et al a few minutes off the bench and persisting with decent but robotic journeymen?The chance to rebuild a competitive England side in readiness for the world cup has been squandered.Lievremont (France coach)was held up to ridicule for his "excessive" use of players,and constant changing of the France team.Nobody is laughing now!

  • Comment number 44.

    I don't know why a lot of people are being so quick to drop Dan Cole, out of all the England players this 6nations hes been by far and away our most consistent performance especially yesterday when when he made 2 or 3 try saving tackles.

    You could see there was a complete lack of unity in the backs yesterday when Flood received the ball at first receiver and Flutey must of been 15-20meters away to the right.

    If I was Johnson I'd go for broke in France, however I think he will play even safer than a Noon - Tindall center partnership

    My team / Probable

    15. Foden / Foden
    14. Ashton / Tait
    13. Tait / Tindall
    12. Flutey / Flutey
    11. Cueto / Cueto
    10. Flood / Wilkinson
    9. Youngs / Care
    8. Easter (c) / Easter
    7. S. Armitage / Worsley
    6. Dowson / Haskell
    5. Borthwick / Borthwick
    4. Lawes / Deacon
    3. Cole / Cole
    2. Hartley / Thompson
    1. Mullan / Payne

  • Comment number 45.

    Great Blog Ben!
    England need to sort things out now before the world cup otherwise we will be embarrassed - whilst some may see our world cup pool as definitely winnable (which it is) it can also be a major banana skin as we can easily lose to both the Argentinians and the Scots and end up going out in the group stages. We need to bring in Jake White as head coach, Mike Catt as backs coach, the French guy as defense coach (not Lievremont the one from Yorkshire), and someone like Richard Hill as forwards coach.
    From a playing point of view we need to sort out our centres, back row and second row.
    Flutey is too far away from wilko to be effective, and is not the playmaker he was, Tait's defense was poor yesterday and finds it difficult to cross the gainline.
    We have only won one turnovers in two games (against Scotland and Ireland) and as this is so crucial for attacking rugby this is not good enough. The Back row also lacks balance and is ineffectual.
    The Second row is full of donkeys. Shaw - had his last hurrah last summer and we should not continue to play him as it will only spoil the memories it is time to move on.
    My team for Australia this summer (and the WC) is:
    1. Sheridan
    2. Mears
    3. Cole
    4. Attwood
    5. Lawes
    6. Croft
    7. Rees (c)
    8. Worsley
    9. Youngs
    10.Wilkinson
    11.Simpson-Daniel
    12.Barkley
    13.Tindall
    14.Ashton
    15.Foden
    16.Hartley
    17.Doran-Jones
    18.Haskell
    19.Moody
    20.Hodgson
    21.Flood
    22.Tait
    Whilst some may say Tindall is past it and is dull you only need to see his try against Wasps to show that he is back to his best, Barkley was dropped because Hodgson missed failed to tackle Nonu and both were blamed. He will have the ability to boss Wilko around and bring out the best in him. Worsley played some of his best rugby at 8 for England in 2001/2002 when Dallaglio was injured and should be returned there to accomodate Croft and Rees.

  • Comment number 46.

    I like many have become increasingly angry about England's performance this season. Players are not playing to their capabilities; for example I can't believe that Flutey is so indistinguishable in both the last two games. Poor tactics/strategy has been the case with all the last 3 coaches, RObinson, Ashton and now Johmson. The probelem in my mind is the attacking side of the game, the common denominator is Smith.

    I suggest that we should try someone else on the attacking coaching side, suggestions? In my mind just replacing Johnson without addressing the underlying issue won't achieve anything.

  • Comment number 47.

    Get Rob Andrew out get Johno out......

    Geech Director of Rugby appoint his own coaching team for RWC

  • Comment number 48.

    70 quid for a ticket - more money than sense. My ticket was £30 and I had a great view (didn't make the game any better though)

  • Comment number 49.

    Johnson lacks the ability to change, and sticks with his mates. Delon A's form has been poor since his return from injury. Foden should have started in Italy and played since. For next week play Foden, Youngs and Flood.

  • Comment number 50.

    18 months till the world cup and i am losing any faith i had that we could make an impact. We have the players, but are not using them effectivly.

  • Comment number 51.

    The main problem is the player development system for youngsters, we are just developing physical and defensive players instead of intelligent players who are capable of playing quick rugby. This territorial kicking game is very annoying and they arent getting the results either.

  • Comment number 52.

    There isn't much to be positive about right now, try though I might!

    Can I say though, those blaming the imagined "Leicester coaching axis" for Englands current tactics are barking up the wrong tree: who has scored the most bonus points in the GP this year? and who has the greatest points difference in the GP? Thats right folks, Leicester Tigers. If anything, isnt Captain Borthwick a Saracens player? whose playing the GP's most boring and negative rugby? Saracens. Point done.

    England right now have so many players being overlooked because of "lack of experience", but to my mind ignoring these players due to this in the build up to a World Cup (which now surely counts as), is blind idiocy. How are these players (Foden, Ashton, Strettle, ROBSHAW (a much better 6 or 7 than Worsley!), S.Armitage, Ward-Smith, Allen, Youngs, Lawes, Attwood, Doran-Jones, Dowsan, Hape, Varndell (still scoring tries!), JSD, Simpson, Walder, Waldouck, Cipriani etc etc) going to get the evidently pre-requisite (to international rugby) experience if they are continually overlooked? They arent are they? So if we get a few injuries, likely I'd say, then we're up proverbial creek, without a means of propulsion, as our "experienced" replacements are all going to be too old and/or retired, as it seems that the negative set up we currently have won't allow for mass innovation of new ideas.

    This for me is the crippling thing. Continuing to put all faith in Borthwick, Thompson, Easter, JW (poor game again yday, and missed tackles too), Cueto (although I agree he's been one of England's better performers this last month), Flutey (who hasnt played well since the summer), Noon, Worsley, Tindall et all, whilst ignoring in form players, who are more than ready to experience international rugby is like going to the WC with both eyes firmly shut, and will only hamper england in the long run.

    Yes the tactics are poor, negative, not working, and we obviously have no plan B, but for me this is more appropriately personified with the doubt that the current set up have over introducing fresh faces and ideas into the set up, despite form indicators, and the obvious doubt in the squad right now.

    C'mon England! We're so much better than this!

  • Comment number 53.

    Whilst many are talking about changes, what about a change of colour for England. They looked anaemic in white (IMO white is a such a passionless colour for starters.)What about blue, red and white hoops, blue shorts and blue socks? That would sharpen the image - all we need is for players to start to keep better possession, recycle the ball much more quickly and when there is a need to kick try the grubber kick, or is that a forgotten art these days?

  • Comment number 54.

    I share the reaction of the author of this blog, after suffering yet another disapointment from this England side. In contrast, what a joy to see the smart clinical rugby from Ireland at croke park. Only in very brief flashes (against Wales, the interception try, and a the try against Italy) have England approached what Ireland and France have produced. So there is no debate about the fact that its not working, just about why its not working. It was revealing that when Flood came on he was, just as Wilkinson was, isolated with ball in hand. So the ball has to be hoofed or you go into contact but without the back row there the danger is getting turned over. Not working! So can someone figure this out on the pitch? Maybe do something, change the tactics, as Wales did against the French in the second half? They didn't manage to win but they were much more successful and played some good effective, smart rugby. I can't put my finger on all the reasons (its obviously a mix of different things) but there seems to be a chronic lack of smart leadership on the pitch where England are concerned. They just don't solve the problems the other side pose them, and end up mostly tired, beaten up, and frustrated. Albeit they have won twice and drawn one lost one, they have played very little great inspiring, exciting rugby. Thats what the fans are crying out for now. Jonno, are you listening?

  • Comment number 55.

    Don't underestimate the influence Toby Flood had once he came on. How many more times did we see the likes of Flutey and Tait running with ball in hand on the gain line in that 2nd half? In the preceeding 3.5 games they have been anonymous, and we genuinely looked dangerous in those last 20 minutes. Flood has the ability to get others involved more than Wilkinson, more's the pity....

  • Comment number 56.

    Maybe if England as a country switched from the 'girls in the backs' mentality and stopped the overbearing obsession with big and hearty forwards it would change.
    Foreign players can't believe we don't practice more ball skills. Add this to the fact we seem to be obsessed with forwards as coaches, what on earth do we expect but forward-obsessed drivel?

  • Comment number 57.

    To the guy who spoke about the 2012 World cup it's worse than that it's 2011.

  • Comment number 58.

    Having now spent 6 yesrs in australia and 2 in NZ im accustomed to defending 'boring' kicking England. I can no longer offer a defence.

    The much maligned Super 14 this season has been entertaining with attacking rugby. The rules havent changed it just that the referees apply the rule to ensure the tackler releases the tackled player.

    By comparison England just seem to lack ideas, confidence and the ability to run, catch and pass. Quite why 60,000 people still seem happy to turn out in the cold is beyond me... but i guess until they voice their 'frustration' England rugby will continue to offer about as much entertainment and excitment as cold porridge.

    I think England have potentially one of the most exciting back lines in years. The British & Irish Lions tour proved that England have some real quality. Where has that all gone?

  • Comment number 59.


    Sorry Iain post 39, 40, have to disagree a bit.

    Firstly, I don't want England to imitate anything welsh.

    Secondly I don't think its fair to say we got lucky in 2003. We had been the best team going around for 2 years which culminated in the 2003 win.

    But I take your wider point about the super 14 etc.

  • Comment number 60.

    I was all for keeping faith with Johnno but now my patience has gone...he just does not have the skills and experience to coach at international level and he should go with all the other coaches...I really fear for our chances at the next world cup and can see us not even getting out of the group stages..to the poster who states that when Flood came on the backs got moving more...you must have been watching a different game to me..Flood is not international class and whenever he does play he becomes anonymous..I am not saying JW should be s shoein as he is playing badly and missing tackles..but he would have nailed the drop goal that Flood missed....

  • Comment number 61.

    Whether or not MJ is good enough, I think the major problem is: John Wells,since 2004, 75 games played, Win 33. ratio 44%. Mike Ford, since 2006, 54 games, win 24. ratio 44%.
    I have seen nothing in the forwards for the last 6 years that has shown any World class development. The defence has averaged a losing margin of over 9 points per game (676 points for Eng, 1168 against)!
    The current apalling play is nothing new, think back to both Robinson & Ashton eras.
    Are these two RFU appointees really world class 2010 modern coaches, or have they continued to fail, under Robinson, Ashton & now MJ. Who is protecting them through 3 failed regimes? It took Woodward +5 years to get the winning formula, but he had complete autonomy over the back room. Has MJ?

  • Comment number 62.

    England's first priority has to be to sort out the back row. For the second game in a row the back row was completely outclassed by their opponents. If anything this week was even worse with Worsley adn Haskell both doing a great impression of the invisible man.

    Yesterday England conceded 5 turnovers and failed to win a single one, it is only the lack of a cutting edge in the Scottish backs which prevented a hammering.

  • Comment number 63.

    I am still shocked that England didnt recieve a yellow card. How many more times was Jonker going to warn them?

    The way i saw the England performance was that of very slow play from the 9 to 10 channel. Whilst JW was he was almost standin in the IC position he was that deep. Flood stood a lot flatter and looked to attack but his centers didnt move up with him and left him constantly isolated.

    I dont understand what Flutey is doing in that England side as i feel that he is not international quality.

    Foden again looked very damaging when he came on and he certainly asked alot of questions from the Scottish defence, he has to be a starter for next week.

  • Comment number 64.

    I've seen more passion in a bag of jelly babies than was shown by the England pack. This match was so dire I even switched the french commentary back on - as in "the ref says knock-on and they argue about whether or not it was accidentally offside or a forward pass the other way" - nearly as bad as the England team's understanding of rugby.
    Roll on next week and a massacre in Paris, though I'm not sure the French team even needs to turn up to win.

  • Comment number 65.

    watched the game yesterday; agree that there is little point in too much angst, we have no divine right to always be in top 2 in 6N, semi finals at least in RWC, these players are not as good as the 97-03 lot and the rest of 6N have caught England up in terms of fitness, defence etc.
    Saddest of all is that the one of the 3 best lock forwards since WWII is in danger of being remembered as a poor, rather one dimensional coach.
    Think the coach, Johnson, or White if he has had enough, should start giving next generation a chance (Rees, when fit, Narraway, Youngs, Lawes, Cipriani, Tait, Cole, Flood, Croft) and retain a few older players for experience, Sheridan, Easter, JW.
    We won't win next RWC anyway, so why not start planning for 2015, it took SCW 2 efforts to win it don't forget

  • Comment number 66.

    Johnson has been a dreadful manager, showing no vision or foresight.

    It really does show how good Woodward was. I bristle when I hear people say he was lucky to be blessed with such a good side. He blooded Wilkinson as an 18 year old and hugely developed the likes of Woodman, Thompson and even Dallaglio. He built that side.

    And it was no coincidence that players like Ben Cohen and Mike Tindall faded so badly after 2003. They were ordinary players who Woodward made to look very, very good.

  • Comment number 67.

    Should just have had the 2 number 10's take kicks at the posts for all the entertainment yesterdays match produced. If this is professional rugby 2010 then no thanks- give me professional paint drying. At least that wouldn't take as long as one of the so called scrums from yesterdays game. And listening to Mr. Moore's commentary on the match was about as fun as dental surgery without anesthetic. About right for the match then!!!

  • Comment number 68.

    Leaving the abject performances of both sides for a minute, how important was Marius Jonkers' display to the quality of rugby?

    Bar the hopeless interpretation of scrummaging that must have chewed up 10 minutes of game time, England should have had three yellow cards; Hartley for punching Ford (which would have reversed a kicked Wilko penalty), Flood for blatantly lying on the ball (excused because he was just on!!) and Cueto for similarly killing attacking Scottish ball. Jonkers also told Borthwick at least three times that if England killed the ball again, he'd issue a card - cheap talk that cost Scotland a win their lack of a killer instinct, and lack of a quality ten, didn't deserve.

    As a Scot, I'm just delighted to see our backrow play with the consistency they've struggled to achieve. The battle with their Irish counterparts will hopefully be a superb spectacle. Euan Murray's demise is a source of huge frustration though.

    Am also looking forward to England picking the 'right' backline against France - why not go for it with Youngs, Geraghty / Flood, Ashton, Flutey, Tait, Cueto, Foden and see what happens? Nothing to lose now and if any team in the 6N can inexplicably fold, it's the French!

  • Comment number 69.

    Ben, I don't agree with your assessment of Borthwick. He has been one of England's better players this six nations. He has been good at the lineout and has been more effective at the breakdown than the back row. His rapport with the ref yesterday may well have been a factor in cueto not getting sin binned. The player who needs to come under most scrutiny is flutey. He was supposed to be the creative spark in the midfield but was never anywhere near the action. he never gave the fly half any support (whether JW or TF) and didn't exactly marshall the defence.

  • Comment number 70.

    One of the frustrations for England fans is that promising club performance is not carried through into the international team.

    But that was always going to be the case when "England" were persuaded, ultimately, by Sir Clive's case that English rugby should follow English cricket down the "elite squad" route.. That more or less guarantees that the international side will not contain players with good club form, since playing for their club becomes a secondary obligation, and a threat to their international place.

    Moreover, part of the rationale for the elite squad was the growing mantra that players can not think for themselves and need to be coached into team plays and drills by national coaches, and of course having made such an investment/commitment just like the massive bank bail-out failure can not be allowed.

    I think that the Cole example blows the myth, as does the way that Foden, and even more incredibly young Ben Youngs, showed a greater ability than the rest to play as active and creative elements in a team, passing, running support lines, and playing as if playing rugby was a great and exciting thing to do.

  • Comment number 71.

    He's an awful, awful manager. No explanation needed.

  • Comment number 72.

    Mr Dirs (hope to be able to call you Ben in due course!), this is my first post re your blogs. Unlike the fare on show on Saturday, your contribution was worth the admission fee!!

    Mixing a refreshing combination of candor, informed opinions and that vital ingredient, dry humor (e.g. talk of fairground mirrors, darkness hiding mediocrity and of the Scotsman's wry observation)makes yours a winning combination.

    Unlike England. Credit must go to Scotland with their many attempts to go through the hands, string numerous phases together, break the gain line and entertain as a result.

    Though it was patent that they lacked pace and world class penetration, they, through former England coach, Andy Robinson, laid it on the line. England, and I'm going to lay it on the line, are going nowhere fast! Irony of ironies.

    As an All Blacks fan, I appreciate 'quality' rugby. What we are are seeing with this post Clive Woodward era (truly golden years)for England is a case of 'Wilko and Out' if they continue with the same background personnel and stale, nervous, scratchy, grinding furrow.

    Alas, there may not be too much for France to crow over if (let's be generous) they see off this outfit: not so much a work in progress as a real grind to watch.

    Ah!! Mr Johnson's made a niche out on the motivational speaking circuit has he not!? How about a video of some blood stirring 'HAKAS!!?

    I'm serious! England's set up need a rocket in their camp for sure. For the love of sport, no more!!

  • Comment number 73.

    England have been a poor attacking team for the past ten years or so and Johnson as a captain never mind a manager was always a cautious and unimaginative player. Lest we forget the years before the world cup when when we claimed to have the best team and time and again failed to produce the goods. I believe poor decision making and a lack of creativity were the issue then. One glaring problem with Johnson as a captain was his inability to change the focus of a game once the tactics were not working and the same could be said for his management.
    When you realise that England require their junior players to learn a folder full of moves and attacks/defences giving little room for instinctive play and heads up rugby you understand why the senior side fail so appallingly.
    We are seeing rugby go the way of cricket in the 1980's with massive over coaching and a lack of focus on skills development.
    The sad thing is no one has the courage to take the risks necessary to bring about change and to give time for the mecurial players to bed down. We have forgotten that Jonathan Davies was at times critiscised for being too flamboyant and yet now we see him as a the ideal we need to return too. With risk comes occasional failure but that is what makes sport exciting without it it becomes too mechanical.
    Well nothing will change and England will be dire against the French but no doubt will win by frustrating them to death and defending all day.

  • Comment number 74.

    Much hand-wringing about England in all of the postings above.
    Although no-one is saying it the reality is that the RFU have made a major blunder in appointing Martin Johnson who has no experience of managing a team. They missed out on Sean Edwards and probably would have done much better if they had appointed Andy Robinson, but Scotland got there first.

    England has a host of talened players but have a duff management team who can neither pick the best team, nor motivate them to play good rugby. Scotland on the other hand have the best coach in the Six Nations, arguably, and the least number of players to choose from. Robinson has made the best of an ordinary bunch of players.

    Yesterday`s match should be the swan song for a number of England players, Wilkinson, Borthwick, for example but no doubt MJ will be "loyal" and persevere rather than utilise more talented guys.

    As a Scot,with my cynical hat on, long may the RFU keep MJ in place to continue the mediocre fare served up by the England Team. However in objective mode it is a great loss to rugby that the great talent that England has cannot be harnessed to entertain as they undoubtedly could.

    England were lucky yesterday, but next Saturday will see them put to the sword!

  • Comment number 75.

    from the england side of things, i've always been a believer that forwards decide who wins, and backs by how much - if you look at our world beating side in 2003, we undeniably had the best pack in world rugby, and jason robinson.

    now, it doesn't matter who we have at fly half, as our forwards are second best in almost every game, and we're getting slow ball. the problem we have is we're now trying to get so many lightweight "gifted" backs into the side, we have no sledgehammer players for when we need to bust our way out of trouble, and we're very lightweight in defence.

    from the spectacle of rugby side of things, i can't help but wonder if the laws were enforced correctly for rucks, more players would be tied in, and there would be more space for attacking rugby - ie when you have 3 players from each team lying on the floor, there IS NO DAMN RUCK! so more forwards need to be there to secure the ball, and more defenders should be committed to blow over the top of these floored players. Time and time again players are penalised for wading through at the scrum half when there is nobody left on their feet, meaning you may as well just play rugby league - play restarts with a ball through the tackled players legs when both sides have realigned across the pitch.

  • Comment number 76.

    agree with 74; best go down fighting - more agressive pack, flood at 10, pick Foden from start- than another show like yesterday.

    I've a ticket for next week, if they play like against Scotland will lose by 30 points

  • Comment number 77.

    England's inability to talk to each other on the pitch about when to call 'hands' or call 'numbers' is embarassing, this really is schoolboy stuff.

    There are some young exciting players, Foden, Lawes etc, they just have to be given caps so that come the WC they are ready.

    Awful management I'm afraid, we also lost our last game and no one was dropped, one should have been at least to make the other players uncomfortable and make them really earn their shirt.

    The inability of England to know when to kick, when to run, when to go short, when to go wide is inexplicable especially in a professional era, what do they talk about and practise in all those training sessions?

    England were woeful and what a terrible game, bad advert for rugby and the six nations. Playing with my cat and its toy at half time was far more exciting than that dull mess.

  • Comment number 78.

    As a scot, I'm not gouing to start on the "we wiz robbed" but the ref played his part a little too much. IWe have certainly the more reason to be aggrieved,. We tried more attacking play/line breaks/ and generally just tried harder. What englands game plan was i have no idea. It seemed to be that they waited for us to give up or get bored. I will say this though that we were the better team yesterday. and deserved the win more than that bunch of people that turned up on the pitch as opposition. I hope that that ref doesn't get any more more 6N games as he was dreadful.

  • Comment number 79.

    Unfortunately England have too many problems that sacking the manager simply will not fix. Sacking the manager will not suddenly provide you world class players in key positions. Watching the Guiness Premiership shows there aren't many English superstars coming through the ranks never mind available at this time. Ben Foden looked more willing to attack than Armitage when he came on, but nothing special. Toby Flood tried to attack but was ineffective. He took the ball flat, but his support runners were 20 yards back.

    If the England management do want to play an expansive game they need to seriously look at their selection. The 2nd row and back row are too slow to the breakdown; they are not ball winners.
    Nick Easter (the crab) is not dynamic enough as a No 8. His runs are lateral and slow.
    Danny Care is undecisive and slow in his distribution.
    Flutey and Tait run straight predictable lines 20 yards from the gain line.

    Martin Johnson (or the England coaching staff) probably isn't the right man for the job, but I doubt there is a manager out there who is. The best available English players have been selected in this Six Nations. That is a scary prospect.

  • Comment number 80.

    I have been watching the English game from afar in Western Australia for some time now, and also have the benefit of Super 14 and Tri-nation rugby to compare it with. It depresses me as an ex-pat!
    The English game reminds me of a very uninteresting Saturday Park game of some squalid vets side in the pennines. It has come full circle to a kind of slow, up your jumper, grind the opposition to a dithering bored mess that it used to be when messers Beaumont and Skinner were involved. You can tell that the Enlgish "Elite" team are managed and coached predominantly by forwards!
    All inventiveness and opportunism instilled during the Clive Woodward era is now nowhere to be seen!!! The current crop of English players would struggle to hit a gap if their life depended on it, and if they did they would drop the ball. They dont even think of attacking unless they are camped on the opposition try line, and then its 17 phases of forward drives! Its pathetic! Its predictable and its exactly what the top three teams (that is Southern Hemisphere) are licking their lips to come up against.
    There would appear to be no-one prepared to take the game by the scruff of the neck and say "lets try this!". Jonny Wilkinson, although I respect his former talent and ability, is past his best. He has lost his vision of the game, a yard of pace and is not compensating by putting the faster boys in the correct area of the field. He also cannot dominate the field as his position is supposed to and is all too easily dragged in to defensive situations.
    Danny Care, although showing intermittent flashes of talent, is easily bullied by his opposite numbers and is someone who again is not prepared to command the ball in the style of Matt Dawson, or dare I say it, Dewi Morris! England could play all day, but until these pivotal positions are sorted by putting people, not only with talent, but with the personality required for these big roles, then England will continue to flounder.
    The captain himself strikes me as someone in need of help. He again doesn't appear from where I am watching to have the wherewithall to command the game. He would seem to have more of a chinese parliament, rather than a clear concise idea of how he wants his team to perform.
    These three things to me are a symptom of the managament and not a reflection of the players committment to the game. I am in no doubt that the boys on the field are giving it their all and more, but "it" just isn't happening with the current chemistry.
    I watch Western Force with regularity as my local team, and they are currently sitting smack at the bottom of the Super 14 table and by far the worst performing team. They, as a club, would muller the current England set up without a doubt. They show flair, talent, vision and a reactiveness to unfolding situations that would leave the English "Elite" salivating. They will run it from anywhere, but always have a clear plan on how they will go about it.
    The Southern Hemisphere was stunned by the Clive Woodward era and the run up to the 2003 World Cup. They have learnt that lesson and more - the gulf is back again!

  • Comment number 81.

    All these calls for Johnson to go. Did the France coach have a brilliant debut? Has he improved the side? Give Johnson a longer go. If I remember rightly England won the world cup during the usual blaze of adverse comments from those who have never been in a similar position to him. His former colleagues' adverse comments are the mirror image of that former England captain who was always being trundled out to spout the expected citicism of Woodward. That same captain lost England a close match against Scotland as I recall. If Johnson uses many players as Lievremont has done, he would be criticised. If he sticks with a settled side so they become familiar with each other he is also panned. Who in any sport can please the English press and public?

  • Comment number 82.

    Very funny blog, Ben, but where are the positive suggestions for improving things? Dangerous stuff that, it'll give people a chance to criticise your decisions. Much safer to get easy laughs at other people's expense.
    Let's remind ourselves that MJ has been in the job two years next month and it can take much longer than that to build a grand slam or world-beating side (ask Sir Clive). We are unlikely to win the next RWC, so our ambitions must be to set a realistic target for achievement in 2011 and work out an approach to win the following tournament and dominate the Six Nations.
    And I'm probably in a minority of England fans who think MJ should be given more time to prove what he can do. A couple of thoughts, Ben - (1) who's your man to replace MJ? (2) what about Brian Clough's comment "if a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well". If MJ is sacked, should this principle be applied to those who appointed him in the first place?

  • Comment number 83.

    Very true estjyorkie, the whole set up must be questioned. I had severe doubts about Woodward but he proved everyone wrong and my biggest question is why isn't he still involved in some capacity. I would get him in as Director with a vision for the future.

    What I cant understand is England's inability to play with the ball in hand and open sides up. The thing that bothers me is it's just simple stuff at times, calls to go open or blind, short or wide, when they've got numbers and when backs are on forwards. The lack of communication is unbelievable. Also what is wrong with attacking with the ball in hand from your own half, if there's a danger of getting islolated kick, but you've got to have an element of surprise in your team.

    If the opposotion know what you're going to do in each situation on the pitch then you're far easier to defend against. Why not run? They are far fitter and stronger as players, the French cna do it, the welsh and our Rigby league teams can play excellent running rugby, they play in the same conditions as us, there are no excuses.

  • Comment number 84.

    I personally didnt expected anything different from England or Scotland, It was a good old fasion battle, although it was all kicking. Big Rival battle!

  • Comment number 85.

    England have loads of talented players
    what they seem to lack is strategy, shape, and purpose

    all too often they seem disjointed and directionless
    as if they are not quite sure what they are trying to do

    this just has to say something about the coaching, surely ?

    Martin Johnson was a good player for England
    but he just doesn't seem to make an effective coach

    I think we need a change of coach
    sorry Martin

  • Comment number 86.

    I think it's time to let Johnson know he's on borrowed time. His tendancy to show loyalty has bitten him on the backside. I'd rather we didn't lose but I'd tolerate it if we were at least building towards something.

    Look at what Lievremont did with France - he looked at 80 odd players before finally settling on a team and moving forward. We know what the seasoned pros can do, but we now need to look at the youngsters.

    For me Flutey must be dropped as he has been awful. Hartley is a stupid error waiting to happen. Payne is nothing more than what we've seen.

    We know what Cueto, Wilkinson, Moody, Borthwick, Easter, Worsley and Deacon can do. The idea of putting a Union novice like Hape in, is a joke. We need a radical team for France:

    15. Foden
    14. Ashton
    13. Tait
    12. Hipkiss (capt)
    11. Strettle (if Monye doesn't recover)
    10. Flood
    9. Youngs

    8. Haskell
    7. S Armitage
    6. Robshaw
    5. Kennedy
    4. Lawes
    3. Cole
    2. Webber
    1. Mullan

    16. Wilson
    17. Mears
    18. Croft
    19. Crane
    20. Ellis
    21. Geraghty
    22. D Armitage

    Whilst cries will go up for Cipriani, he clearly does not show the desire to want to play for England and until he does he should not be considered.

  • Comment number 87.

    England were absolutely dire yesterday and devoid off all attacking nouse and simple thought of how to play the game of rugby. No better was this shown when, in the last play before half time and England were threatening the Scotland 22, Armitage went for a speculative grubber that was easily cleaned up and kicked out of play...what drives you to such madness?!

    Our forwards were poor in the loose, with little close support runners at the breakdown. If you watch the super 14 you see runners ALWAYS on the left and right shoulder of the ball carrier expecting a pop in the tackle. We just don't do it, I can't remember a single quick off load, It was the same turgid slow rucking with Care passing to a stationary forward 5 yards from the gainline who got smashed half way into next week. It's simply not good enough. And the scrummaging, well...

    In the backs the fault of a failing backline was clearly shown to be Flutey yesterday. When Flood came on for the injured Wilko he stood noticeably flatter but on his first ball from a scrummage, he was left all at see by Flutey who was standing miles behind the gain line resulting in Flood having to run 10m sideways and to take contact. I hope as result JW gets a break, and Flutey is dropped for someone else. He's had chances and for this 6N at least has failed. Tait showed a few moment of brilliance with some switches and loops but unfortunately lacked the support after breaking the gain line, and cueto was his usual tireless self putting in probably one of england's best performance.

    At the moment England are never going to challenge for anything unless there are wholsale changes, but it is not just MJ. The whole coaching support staff are the same that joined Andy Robinson back in 2004 when Greenwood stepped down. Since then results have been the same, and worse than this the manner of playing has stayed the same. Until these guilty parties go and we make wholsesale changes and bring in new blood we're doomed.

    And as far as the comment of England don't have the quality players, I'm sorry but that is rubbish. Week in week out players prove for their clubs they have the potential. It is poor management decisions and selections that is letting them down. Not only this, rugby is a team sport, it is not about having one or two 'world class players' but having players 1-22 that are very good and as a team play well.

    Finally, those of you talking about Ciprianni being a saviour are delusional. He's an arogant little sod who thinks he is better than the team - he cheered when Wales scored against England becuase he hadn't been picked, and had a sulk in the Saxons squad when he was told to go and work on something (probably his defence which is leakier than a sieve!) I have no time for him and can't wait to see him get destroyed in aus next year

  • Comment number 88.

    The theme remains consistent throughout these and other blogs, so I have two complaints/observations:

    1 - Lightweight post match journalism. You reporters (fordyce/dirs and BBC tv team) are are representatives. Your suppposed to ask the questions on our behalf, whhere is the outragr? where is the tough questioning? Where is the blunt and forthright 'this just isn't good enough is it Martin?' Instead we get MJ and Captain Sideways spouting complete spin/nonsense that offends anyone who loves the game of rugby and England and isn't challenged by the BBC 'journalists'.

    2 - The fans. What fools we are. We spout, complain and suffer then pay through the nose for tickets and merchandise. If we are truly this disillusioned and angry then what are England fans going to do about it?

    Personally I'd like to see Johnson and his Leicester cabal gone ASAP! Internet campaign, letters to the RFU and stop buting the merchandise. RFU has no appetite for change, lets hit them in the pocket and see what happens, we deserve better than this rubbish that keeps getting served up to us!!

  • Comment number 89.

    Good Post. I agree with a lot of what I read about England. There is quite obviously a problem. Is it becuase of a lack of attacking rugby though? I personally don't think so. England have good players, not great players. In 2003, we had the likes of Hill, Greenwood, Catt, Robinson, Johnson... all of which would get into the world 15 at the time. The problem is expectation! Expectation has been on our shoulders since 2003. It is a massive problem. I almost wish that we didn't win as it has been a curse on the team ever since. We do not have any world class players anymore - period. Therefore, we can not play like New Zealand or South Africa. It is simple - we just ain't good enough!

  • Comment number 90.

    I think it's time to wake up and smell the roses, the squad we have has no chance of winning the World Cup next year in NZ.

    Johnno should pension off all thos who will not be a roung in 2015 and start with a clean sheet of paper and build a squad capable of winning.

    Goodbye Borthwick Vickery Thomson Easter Flutey Wilkinson & Co and welcome Youngs Robshaw etc

    Yes there will be defeats and yes we will not become world beaters overnight but it has got to be better than the continual dirge that we have witnessed since post 2003 RWC.

    The premiership is full of young talent capable of being world class.

  • Comment number 91.

    It was such a relief to see Youngs and Foden- they must start against France. I write this comment while watching France doing a demolition job on Italy, and unless something radical happens to England this week i fear the same.

  • Comment number 92.

    England lacked creativity, was a boring game tbf.

  • Comment number 93.

    Archfile (post 16) wrote that England arent a very good team, which is correct but we do have genuinely good players and a lot of young talent in squad terms. Since 2003 the talent stream has been constant but so has the mis-management of players and negative coaching. Players like Foden have come and gone in the last 7 years of waste, the attitude and culture of fearful rugby strangling the exuberence of youth. Exciting young players are not enough without the strength to let them loose and let them lose, if neccesarry. Cipriani may be a legend in his own mind but so what? Let him make mistakes and let him learn on the field at the highest level. Wilko has always been a great defender and kicker but never a world class creater, so if your No.10 is a negative style player and so is your Captain then what do we expect????!!!
    In terms of coahing Johnson looks way out of his depth, and driven by a stuborn quest to live up to his god-like status, hence the Cipriani mis-management. I also question his paymasters because the problems usually eminate from the results-driven suits. These dummies overlooked Shaun Edwards who is just the type of hardman coach the young players need to forge them and to instill a never give in spirit. Technically the coaches need changing. I would be tempted to ask Clive Woodward if he is bord with the Olympics yet? The RFU let him go when they should have bowed and scraped at his every whim, instead they have had a series of well-meaning subordinates under a Performance Director in the wooly Rob Andrew, whose job I pressume it is to kiss and tell on the Management to the suits. Sound like some of the well-run (ironic) corporations and govt. depts. you and i work for!
    Bring back Woody and let him do what the hell he likes with as much resource as he wants, and dont interfere.

  • Comment number 94.

    Great posts by Kernowboy and Hobbinton, but I disagree somewhat about Cipriani. He certainly is immature and full of himself but England are desperate for an overdose of arrogance and I dont believe he is unpatriotic....the boy is frustrated by working with dunderhead coaches and a management who are scared to lose.
    Maybe Austalia will see him grow up, but if (probably when) he starts performing in Aus then the same people who down him now will be clamouring for his return.
    He needs a class man-manager and the wrath of his team mates if he doesnt perform, not public humiliation.
    Livremont went through a lotof players like you said but he was never afraid to lose. Fear is the killer...bring back the kid and lose the old-boy network.

  • Comment number 95.

    We do have some great players but unfortunately we do not have a good coaching set up. Its obvious that we are lacking any kind of gameplan. Johnson insists we are making headway, we are 'improving' - I have seen no evidence of that at all.

    Borthwick and Johnson can bemoan the critics all they like, but when its those paying to watch, those supporting the team, and the 'experts' in the media - then you cannot ignore such widespread criticism.

    The England squad are living in a PR bubble. The RFU has to start to look to change.

    I cannot believe that John Wells has maintained his role as forwards coach throughout the whole sorry episode of Johnson and Ashton.

    Its easy to moan and whinge, and I am english and upset so I will.

    The fact of the matter is that this England side is no good. The players are though. Delon Armitage for one, a quality player who plays a completely different brand of rugby for England than for London Irish. Easter is an offload champion at Quins, not for England - Monye looks for the ball at quins, not for England - Hartley, one of the biggest carriers in the Guiness Premiership for Northampton, he rocks up at England and turns into a lump of concrete. Wilkinson plays flat and lively for Toulon, but stands far too deep for England.

    England are going backward from Ashton - and that is saying something.

  • Comment number 96.

    I am a great admirer of English football and the Six Nations Rugby. I am disappointed to see England deteriorate over the years. There is no more punch and vigour and it seems that the players are being committed to too many mistakes as well as conceding penalties.There needs to be something done immediately-again England have failed in this Six Nations; a team like Italy have made some progress, whereas England have regressed miserably.

  • Comment number 97.

    Maybe its time to accept we're just not that good?

  • Comment number 98.

    Well what else do we expect when we have the Leicester ex-lock (lock - n. device to keep things safe; v. to keep together and make fixed.) up and godfather of grind as our coach? what does ANY lock know about running play? "stick it up yer jersey and HEAVE" is their motto. Woodward remember was a back player.

  • Comment number 99.

    You also have to look at the selection.

    Borthwick and Deacon were our starting locks - that is less inspiring than just a potato for dinner.

    Wilkinson over Flood - what must Flood do?

    Foden over a clearly out of form Armitage?

    Cueto who has been solid, has offered very little going forward - Chris Ashton 12 Premiership tries - worth a punt?

    Under Robinson, Ashton and now Johnson - we have not once moved England forward - and we have untried players waiting in the wings.

    Useless, I tell you, useless!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 100.

    I don't think we should be blaming Martin Johnson - or not only him - for England's soulless performances in the Six Nations. As an English expat I am getting progressively more depressed by the inability of English teams to punch their weight in a variety of sports. According to the IRB website, England has nearly four times as many registered rugby players as the other Five Nations PUT TOGETHER, also three times as many as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa PUT TOGETHER. Martin Johnson can only choose from the available players, and it obvious that England just lacks the talent that these numbers would suggest should be there. And it's not just rugby. Our cricket team, when it performs, is held together by players born in South Africa, our national soccer team has won nothing - has not even reached a European Nations or World Cup final - in 40 years, and our tennis players just got drummed out of the Davis Cup by Lithuania. Now I know other contributors will come back at me with names of recent English sporting successes - mostly in minority sports - but the bottom line is that we should be doing better. Do our problems go back to a lack of school sports, poor training facilities, a love of watching sports on the TV rather than actually participating in them, preferring to be brave losers than winners, or what? O.K., our soccer players have qualified for South Africa, but only Rooney and occasionally Gerrard have world format. And our national team and our four European Cup team entries (Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal) all have non-English trainers. What is the matter with English sport??

 

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