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Bryn Palmer

Over to you boys, says Ashton (66)

Versailles - Out of despair and darkness, lucidity and light. Out of chaos and carnage, clarity and control.

That appeared to be the message from the England camp on Tuesday, four days after their humbling by South Africa, and 15 days after their arrival on French soil.

Better late than never, you might say. But from where has this new brains trust emerged, this new well of optimism sprung?

Brian Ashton has two assistant coaches, two specialist coaches, a fitness guru and a technical support manager to bounce ideas off.

Brian Ashton

But the 61-year-old head coach, whose own nomadic career took him from Lancashire to France and Italy and back again, has decided the players themselves are the fount of most knowledge, and control is now firmly in their hands.

After a four-hour debrief with his fellow coaches last Saturday morning, Ashton met the players in the afternoon, to – as he put it – “clear all the debris away”.

”We just talked about what happened on Friday night and some other issues as well that I felt were pretty important to get out in the open,” he explained, without revealing what those 'other issues' were. They were private, unsurprisingly.

Those who made the most sense, it seems, and took a lead in deciding what needed to change before they face Samoa on Saturday, were two players who watched the game from the sidelines - Jonny Wilkinson and Olly Barkley.

The pair of fly-halves, along with Mike Catt, Andy Farrell and scrum-halves Shaun Perry, Andy Gomarsall and Peter Richards, were then summoned to another meeting with Ashton on Sunday, nominally a day off for the whole squad, to discuss tactics.

“It was an incredibly useful exercise,” Ashton explained. “I have always been a big believer in players playing a full part in what goes on, especially in Test match rugby.

“There are players on that team-sheet that know more about areas of the game than I do. That is not me saying ‘I am not an international coach’. That is just reality.

“You have got to tap into things like that. I have done it before with them, but maybe I should have done more of it earlier.”

Crikey, a coach who admits his players know more than he does. Is that a first?

The injuries to first Wilkinson and then Barkley obviously hampered England’s preparations for the Boks game (and, you could argue, the failure to include Toby Flood in the original squad).

Mike Catt and Andy Farrell had just one training session to work out what they were supposed to be doing, and clearly it wasn’t enough.

They have both paid the price, along with Perry, and been omitted from the starting line-up for this weekend.

Olly Barkley (left) and Jonny Wilkinson

Wilkinson and Barkley have never played in a Test match together either, but from listening to England’s 2003 hero on Tuesday, you would never have known.

Two weeks ago Barkley was quick to praise the help he had received working with Wilkinson before the World Cup, talking about someone else who understood the “loneliness” of the place-kicker and the mental toll of practice.

And Wilkinson has recognised a kindred spirit in Barkley who, he says, is “very much on the same wavelength in terms of what we want to achieve out of the game” and “plays the game in his head very similarly”.

Both made their England debuts at a young age, (Wilkinson at 18, Barkley at 19), both are “used to shouting and talking our way through a game”, and both have a similar crouched, clasp-the-hands-together routine when they line up a kick at goal, left-footed.

One revealing anecdote from Wilkinson concerned players’ meetings, at which he admits he is often “very keen to get my point across”. But he said that having heard Barkley speak first, he had not felt the need to do so himself.

So this is not, as one might imagine, a master-and-pupil relationship, but a meeting of minds, a realisation that in the sticky situation England find themselves in, two decision-making brains are better than one, or none at all.

The other good news for England fans is that, according to Jonny, “form has nothing to do with anything in rugby.”

“If everyone creates an environment in which you are allowed to bring out your strengths, then everybody will be on form,” he explained, with a certain logic.

So next time a coach says a player has been selected on the basis of form, or because he is off it, we can tell him he doesn’t know what he’s on about.

The players know best, and Jonny knows more than most.

Welcome back Wilko. Your country needs you.


Bryn Palmer is the BBC Sport website’s rugby union editor.


Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 07:21 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • tim c wrote:

so mr corry, When are we to hit form? Unless we do this elusive thing soon it will be too late. excuses about form or something called class are just another old chestnut.
We and that with the exception of a very few are niether
class or up to southern hemisphere.
wasted years !!!!!

  • 2.
  • At 07:38 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Tinoflyer wrote:

The one thing this England team is good at, is talking.

Andy Robinson was good at it, an expert you might say - how he managed to convince his superiors that we really were world beaters following defeat after defeat after defeat.....

And certainly one thing that Brian Ashton has shown is a good tonge. He the man who said 'he had never felt such focus in the dressing room' before England proceeded to show such lack of focus in getting brushed aside by a group of 'big boys' 36-0.

This time it is Wilko talking, and yes he does make a lot sense, and is quite compelling to listen to - but I am not about to fall into the trap of expecting it to materialise on the pitch.

This really is crunch time for England and Ashton. The fans don't buy the game talk anymore, it would be humerous if it wasn't so serious.

I would prefer complete silence throughout the week - and then a performance!

  • 3.
  • At 07:49 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Tooks wrote:

England vs Samoa:
1. Sheridan (dominant in the scrum and powerful ball charger)
2. Chuter (Regan had a bad game against South Africa, bad lineouts and anonymous in the loose)
3. Stevens (best we have, and improving)
4. Kay (Why pick Kay after he did that chip?)
5. Shaw (Ok I suppose but wish we had Grewcock)
6. Corry ( 100% effort but a cursed captain, don't put him through it again. Should be a lock too immobile for a back rower.
7. Worsley ( not a 7, may have a big game but why not give moody a start put some pressure on kickers and restart catchers "nobody else has"
8. Easter ( powerful ball runner but must have a big game or will prove he is not international class)
9. Gomarsall ( Perry let himself down, get us quick ball Gomarsall if the fowards allow it!)
10. Wilkinson ( thank god!)
11. Cueto ( back in his position hopefully won't be a rustbucket like he was vs USA)
12. Barkley ( may discover gret partnership between hime and Wilkinson)
13. Tait ( can attack and tries hard in defence, is he physical enough for Samoa?)
14. Sackey ( extremely fortunate to retain his place and is lucky there is no Robinson or Cohen to take it away. Must play better as people know he can)
15. Lewsey ( best at fullback may put in a few bonecrunchers

  • 4.
  • At 07:52 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Julian Wittey wrote:

ashton you've lost the plot, back row not balanced, No8 at blindside, blindside at openside it's proved not to have worked before. Corry will give his all but he is not a thinking man. Basic problem is commitmment at the breakdown, we need to be aggresive and clear out move the ball quickly, up the tempo - where's the pace in the backrow? we may get away with it against lesser teams but against the top teams we will be found wanting. Oh yeah - how else would Tom Rees learn his trade, he was outdtanding in the european cup especially against Leinster, he needs support play a balalnced back row and he will not be so isolated. Have faith in the talent that's abundant, after poor games why is Kay in and why not Borthwick who is a nuisance of a player, agressive and a leader(of which we are short of in the pack) for opposition and is the future for the next ferw years.

  • 5.
  • At 08:08 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Tinoflyer wrote:

Some good calls there Tooks.

I agree Kay should not play for that chip alone. Surely he should have been Cited! Talk about bringing the game into disrepute.

Considering that in the majority of the last 4 years we have gone with braun in the centres, and now for what could be the most physical game we play, we opt for brains. I am worried about Tait at outside centre, purely from a physical point of view, but would take that to get that creativity we are so in need of.

Worried about Sackey's defence, but glad Cueto is back and Lewsey is in his best position.

I would like to have seen Moody and Worsley in the Back Row with Easter, and Corry at 4 or 5.

But on the whole this looks like a team with some guile. Samoa are going to be bruising, but they have a tendancy to capitulate when teams go round them rather than through them.

I think if we pick a team that doesn't intend to bash bash bash we should be on to the right game plan.

But then again this is England, and just when I think things can't get worse..........

  • 6.
  • At 08:29 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Theodogdinho wrote:

Corry AND Worsley in the same back row.

Corry and Worsley might have the power to deal with the Samoans but that won't be much good when they're watching from another postcode...

I know Emile Heskey proved us all wrong recently but I just don't think I'll be able to watch it.

AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRrrrrrrrrrggggggggh!

Better news in the backs - probably got that right at last. Just hoping Tait shows everyone what he can do if he gets some useful ball on the front foot (which is not v likely).

  • 7.
  • At 08:35 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • ian macko wrote:

Does anybody really know what is going on in the England camp,it is total panic.The chages needed to be made in the pack more than the backs who never got a touch of the ball against SA.I can't believe people like Will Greenwood on national TV,saying that the front 5 he would not change.They got destroyed.Then you get Ian Robertson saying the backline is better.How can he come to that conclusion when the backs had nothing to work with,ridiculus comments.I would of liked to have seen Ian Robertson up against Andy Farrell on a rugby pitch,seeing he has so much to say about him.

  • 8.
  • At 08:52 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • chris wrote:

ex pat living in oz last minute w/cup trip need a lift from calais to nante for the match 5am-7am at calais please

  • 9.
  • At 09:22 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Peter Singleton wrote:

A great article, interesting content and well written. England really do need to shutup and deliver. I'm a big fan of both Barkley and Wilko, but what he says is right, you need the right conditions to bring out your strengths as a player and a back row with Corry in it and the lack of a world class scrum a la Dawson will not produce those conditions when the pressure is on. Even so, against Samoa England must win, but its not going to be pretty.

  • 10.
  • At 09:25 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

I watched the SA debacle an was sshocked at what I saw, Professionals, internationals punting high into the air and in mid fild. Aren't players taught to FIND touch anymore thus giving the forwards a short rest and maybe reorganised. Not one of the punters seemed to make an angle before kicking. I was smazed to see the backs hustling into each other.and I don't rememeber one going straight. Come on England set an example to those who might take your places...

  • 11.
  • At 09:31 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Alex cowell wrote:

Agree with others that the problem is in the forwards, not the backs. Yep, Kay and Regan should be out. I don't get the idea behind the 6-8 reshuffle: makes no sense to me.

  • 12.
  • At 09:44 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • darran mather wrote:

oooh, Olly and Jonny are back. God almighty. Its Wilkinson and Barkley for god's sake!! Grow up and please refrain from such nauseating, infantile sycophancy. You can sense the dyed in the wool Union hacks breathing a collective sigh of relief as 'real posh Union boys' replace the vulgarity of Farrell and Catt.

Posh accents and professional parents count for little when you've got 15 solid Kiwis in your face.

If they turn this team around i'll shave my eye-brows off

  • 13.
  • At 09:55 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Bonaco wrote:

Speed to the breakdown Strength and and control when you get there. - I can't believe we have now selected the slowest back row and the lightest midfield.

I get it when the Samoan steam roller comes towards you jump on, hold on and wait for the tommy trundlers to arrive. Lets hope Samoa have forgotten how to offload in the tackle.

Of course if the idea is to kick nearly everything and stuff the rest up your jumper then this at least is a plan to which fast chasers such as Tait can add value. Lets just hope Samoa don't get the ball.

Even as a staunch England fan I am saddened by the apparent lack of strategy. But, if copying South Africa's kick and chase is the way to the qtr finals then I am all for it.

It's been a long time since we had an aggressive, quick and talented midfield but in a couple of years I look forward to watching Allen and Hipkiss develop into the new Darcy and O'driscoll until then 'there my lord are your guns'

  • 14.
  • At 09:56 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Bard Wooller wrote:

Frankly, on friday night England got what they deserved for 3 and a bit years of directionless, negative and at times very poor rugby, be that tactically and physically.

Finally we sort out a flyhalf - centre combination that the Southern Hemisphere sides have adhered to for a while (an out and out 10 and a second play maker at 12).

Problem is, as stated above backs can't so anything without decent ball, which requires a good tight 5 and a MOBILE back row.... Thus a new problem for you Mr Ashton!

England WILL beat Saomoa, but they will get found out by Aus in the quater finals i fear :(

  • 15.
  • At 10:09 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • ian wrote:

Got it in one Darran posh union boys. To listen to some you would think the only problem in English rugby is Farrell ! Ashton is an ex teacher who has too many links to a few posh schools, a bit like the fool that preceded him. No wonder SH enjoy knocking lumps off this lot. Tait Varndell Cipriani Sackey Geraghty etc... how many tackles will they make ?

  • 16.
  • At 10:48 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • maninalift wrote:

Absolutely agree with #4 Julian Wittey aggression and a bit of pace in the back-row are vital if you want to put pressure on the opposition: Get quick ball, create turnovers and make the opposition suffer at the breakdown.

Sackey cursed himself by saying he wanted to outshine Bryan Habana, It reminded me of Paul Robinson saying that he wouldn't be happy until he was the best goalkeeper in the world while everyone else was just wishing he'd be able to look something like an international goalkeeper.

  • 17.
  • At 11:06 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Greg wrote:

The biggest problem for me is contesting the breakdown - and speed to it. The team need a speedy back row and mobile locks. I would have had Rees at open side and Moody at blind side - any side knows if they are plying against Moody. You need to get there on time to complete.

  • 18.
  • At 11:11 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • maninalift wrote:

#15 Ian and #12 Darren: What the $%*& are you going on about? Preferring Wilkinson at no 10 to Cat or Farrell isn't class prejudice, it's about performances. Number 10 requires the tactical intuition of a player who regularly plays in that position. As for Farrell, every England fan wanted him to do great things and he would have got immediate support if he had done but so far his best performances have been ordinary.

So going to public school means you can't tackle? Look at this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IufWNJAXeVA

Plus are you implying that none of the South Africans some from "posh" backgrounds or went to public school?

p.s. Disclaimer: I did not go to a public school.

  • 19.
  • At 11:14 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Bryn Palmer wrote:

A couple of you raised concerns as to whether Mathew Tait will be able to hack it physically at outside centre. Brian Ashton was asked about this when he announced the team. This was his response: "He played two Tests against South Africa in the summer and I don't remember him being physically out of his depth. He was probably our form player in the backs. He also played against South Africa in the autumn and didn't look out of place. He is a lot bigger and stronger than people think he is. I really don't see it as an issue. People have this mental picture of him being picked up by Gavin Henson in his first Test against Wales, but that is long gone by."

I must admit the biggest surprise for me was the choice of the back row, which seems to lack balance, and pace, if not bulk. Ashton said after Worsley played at open-side in the warm-up Tests against Wales, and then France when Lewis Moody had to pull out injured, that Moody would be the back-up cover to Tom Rees at seven.

But he talked about Worsley playing a particular 'dual' role for "what was required against Samoa". It certainly doesn't appear a back row designed to play a quick game, but then I suspect they won't be throwing the ball around too much anyway to start with as that would play into Samoa's hands. I'd imagine they will keep things fairly tight, try to dominate them through the forwards, and kick the penalties when they come.

And although it won't be pretty to watch, winning is the only thing that matters if they don't want to be the first world champions eliminated before the knock-out stages!

  • 20.
  • At 11:30 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Shoubhik wrote:

ian, do you have any idea what you're talking about? Varndell hasnt even played for England or been involved in the squad under Ashton. Sackey and Cipriani held up pretty well defensively against Tuilagi and co in the Heineken Cup final, and Geraghty's only contribution in an England shirt was a match-winning one. Don't know why I bothered with this email, but England have enough problems without people bringing up all this 'posh' rubbish. Don't see you rubbishing the 'posh' one who drop-kicked the winning goal last time round?

this team is a halfway house that ultimately will address none of what went wrong last Friday.

What is the point of picking such a decent backline if you are not going to give it the back-row to do the job?

Ashton should have played Moody at 6 (his natural position) and Rees at 7. Moody gives away a few penalties, but for this game dynamism is what is needed.

Re Farrell, the problem that his inclusion have highlighted are bigger than the player himself. Read this for a good discussion on the matter: http://www.bloodandmud.com/2007/09/the-andy-farrel.html

  • 22.
  • At 12:05 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

I have to say the backs look good but the forwards look a mess. Did Ashton have a bad time when he was at Bath? Consider the performance of both hookers and the second row against South Africa why are Messrs Borthwick and Mears not starting!

Ian (post 15) mistake there - Ashton is from the rugby leagues heartlands and is a huge fan of the game. I would not criticise a man who is Lancastrian through and through and is not your stereotypical union man -far from it as he is a hard nosed northener!

  • 23.
  • At 12:09 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

I wonder what Lewis Moody did to get completely ignored during this tournament.

For me Corry isnt international class and is only just above average in Club rugby.

I wonder how we would have performed with Ward-Smith and Ellis in the side had they been fit.

I wonder how we would be set if the wasted years with Mr (Smug) Robinson hadnt occurred.

Time to start planning for the next World Cup, I think.

  • 24.
  • At 12:48 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • david smith wrote:

Why bother with a head coach at all?? Just let the players who happen to rock up on the day get on with it.

  • 25.
  • At 01:55 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Tony Murray wrote:

Oh dear, panic definitely setting in. Look, I'm only 42 years old and I've got my boots. If I get on a plane now I could be there in time for the kickoff. Brian...Brian?

  • 26.
  • At 03:35 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Graham wrote:

Mmm agree with the comments on the back row it's lacks dynamism.
Looks like England intend to attack Samao's first phase so expect a lot of kicking and hopefully chasing.
Wear them down, defend like demons convert your penalties and score a couple of trys in the last quarter.
Sound familiar?
A win is a win but let's hope I'm wrong and we see the early signs of England adapting: making the right decisons, finding space, using the ball and executing properly.
Heads up chaps

  • 27.
  • At 07:42 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • phoenixdoyley wrote:

I can't believe how negative some of these comments are?!
Yes, We were woefull against SA but that game is gone.
Yes, our midfield looks light but they're the quickest and most skillful players out there and isn't that what we've been crying out for after months (maybe even years) of big heavy backs that bring nothing much else to the party? England have tried to play a game based on power and it hasn't worked because everyone else (Wales/Ire in 6N - All SH teams - even USA!!) is just as much if not more powerful. We won't over power Samoa whoever plays so let's at last see some quick stylish backs go around and past them!!

  • 28.
  • At 07:50 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Towl wrote:

Well Done Mr. Palmer. At last in this blog a fair and balanced piece. And, dare I say it, an 'England sympathetic' one? All we ask from our colonial buddies is a fair crack of the whip. Keep up the good work old boy.
Mike Towl
Lagos, Portugal

  • 29.
  • At 08:03 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Tim Hopkins wrote:

Think back on the top sporting teams and you will always find a great, not just good, Captain. Martin Johnston, Ricky Ponting, Bernard Langer, Don Bradman, Mike Brealey and John Eales are just a few.

Corey is a fine player, but he is not a great Captain.

My suggestion to England is find a great Captain and start to re-build for 2011.

We have great players. We simply need a great leader who takes charge and provides continuity.

Just ask yourself who would you follow into battle and who can display guts under pressure - then move ahead.

Tim Hopkins

  • 30.
  • At 08:14 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • tim c wrote:

So far so good no expectations no hubris, just maybe a result! Given paucity of class in back row,could we borrow Simon Taylor and Ally Hogg. Well done sweaties!! That hurts .Worsley at 8, more commitment to clearing out and some quick ball . MOVE it away from breakdown and maybe allow the backs to show we have more than muscle.Oh for a young Richard Hill and a scrumhalf .IN HOPE rather than expectation.

  • 31.
  • At 09:04 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • hayfieldman wrote:

Nigel Mellville in the Guardian today summed up England as a team picked for a mid-winter game in the Midlands, i.e. wet, slow and muddy. The WC is being played on hard fast pitches in France at the end of a summer in dry conditions. This should not be a surprise! SA and Ozz generally play on dry, hard fast pitches, where speed to the breakdown and pace through the backs is important. It should be no surprise that the Bocks turned us over - size had nothing to do with it.

England beat France at Twickenham on a dry day on a fast pitch using young fast backs and mobile forwards. Both Flood and Gerahty had good games then yet did not make the squad. I would go further than Mellville and say the England SQUAD has been picked for slow muddy games. Ashton appears to have fallen into the same trap as SCW did with the Lions Tour debacle - pick old warriors who were good once, and hope that they can raise their game. I think the military selection process used by both SCW and Ashton selects loyal warriors not inspiring players - i.e. no game breakers.

England have had misfortune - losing Harry Ellis to injury looks to have lost us some drive and inspiration around the ruck/maul/scrum, Ward-Smith too could have given an extra dimension with speed and power. Strettle looked like he could be a potential winner but we have not replaced the pace of those players. Even Jason Robinson has lost his pace, exciting as his breaks were, 4 years ago he would not have been caught. He is a couple of yards slower now and that is a serious difference at this level. Against SA I kept wondering where the speed was in the England team to exploit any openings if any had been crafted.

A Haskell, Skirving, Croft, or Palmer would give the forwards and extra dimension and pace. An injury enabling a new forward to be drafted in, is our only chance to progress beyong the quarters - if we get that far!

At least the backs look to be a better combination for the conditions. There is no point trying to go through Samoa or Tonga, we have to run them ragged.

  • 32.
  • At 09:53 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Robin wrote:

On the plus side Samoa arent too hot at the moment, that's twice in a row they've lost to Tonga. Every cloud and all that........
But this team would get stuffed by Australia unless it rains for 40 days and 40 nights and the old boys can trundle up the park a 5mph. Oops sorry thats the packs top speed in the dry, my mistake.

  • 33.
  • At 09:54 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • DSparky1 wrote:

While it is obvious England have picked a large back row for the contact area with the huge Samoan pack it is equally apparent as has been mentioned on numerous occasions if you don't get to the breakdown it doesn't matter how big you are. Tom Rees had a bad game, granted, but he is the form 7 in Northern Hemisphere rugby at the moment (Heineken cup proved that last year.) Even Richie MaCaw would struggle if left to do all the hard ball winning by himself, part of reason he looked so bad against the Boks was because his back row colleagues left him isolated at the breakdown against the whole SA backrow. I personally would pick a dynamic backrow (6 - Moody, 7 - Rees, 8 - Worsely) and try and run the Samoans into the ground. But then maybe that is why I am sitting here typing this and BA is coach of England

I would imagine the back row decisions spell out how the English intend to play; they will kick a lot (due to the small but fast backline) added to which the Samoans inability to take the high ball as shown against Tonga. The mystery is however if you are going to play that way (not Ashton’s style at all), why not play moody, I suppose that is why he got the nod over Rees on the bench though.

One last thought, why pick the most dynamic set of backs in recent memory and then pick the least dynamic back row to retain the ball.

  • 34.
  • At 09:58 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • DSpark1 wrote:

While it is obvious England have picked a large back row for the contact area with the huge Samoan pack it is equally apparent as has been mentioned on numerous occasions if you don't get to the breakdown it doesn't matter how big you are. Tom Rees had a bad game, granted, but he is the form 7 in Northern Hemisphere rugby at the moment (Heineken cup proved that last year.) Even Richie MaCaw would struggle if left to do all the hard ball winning by himself, part of reason he looked so bad against the Boks was because his back row colleagues left him isolated at the breakdown against the whole SA backrow. I personally would pick a dynamic backrow (6 - Moody, 7 - Rees, 8 - Worsely) and try and run the Samoans into the ground. But then maybe that is why I am sitting here typing this and BA is coach of England

I would imagine the back row decisions spell out how the English intend to play; they will kick a lot (due to the small but fast backline) added to which the Samoans inability to take the high ball as shown against Tonga. The mystery is however if you are going to play that way (not Ashton’s style at all), why not play moody, I suppose that is why he got the nod over Rees on the bench though.

One last thought, why pick the most dynamic set of backs in recent memory and then pick the least dynamic back row to retain the ball.

  • 35.
  • At 10:23 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

@Tim Hopkins

Of course it's important to have a great captain if you can, but the player base comes first. Ricky Ponting was a fine captain, but when you've got the players Australia has it's a little bit of a headstart! And Don Bradman wasn't really a great captain - he was a good one who was also the best batsman in the world leading a very good team. Brearley knew his stuff, but was made a legend by an Ashes series in which if Botham hadn't played like a genius we would've been thrashed.

Of course, you could argue that it was Brearley who got the best out of Botham, just as you could argue that Ponting got the best out of Warne and McGrath, Martin Johnson got the best out of Wilkinson et al etc...but still, they were lucky to have those players. Looking at the current line-up, I'm not sure that even a wonder-captain could find much to draw on. Realistically, we're looking at two great players, Wilkinson and Robinson, one of whom is almost always injured and probably unlikely to see out the rest of the world cup based on his normal injury record over the last four years...and the other who has a fantastic injury record...but is currently injured for almost the first time in his career.

In any case, great captains, as with great players can't be found so easily. Without wishing to sound trite, the best England can hope for now is to get the best they can out of what they have, and that means putting out a balanced team, capable of winning good ball in the remaining group games and using it better (Wilkinson being back should help with the kicking from hand - as long as he stays fit).

It's not worth panicking yet. We have every chance of still getting through the group stages and given the French loss against Argentina and the Irish troubles, we could still finish the tournament as the best team in the Northern Hemisphere...not that that's much to be proud of.

@ Darren (number 15): I don't know how much of rugby is based on class prejudice. But Brian Ashton has continued to play Andy Farrell despite almost everyone in the media criticising the choice, so talk about prejudice as much as you like, but it seems a little harsh to accuse Brian Ashton of it specifically in regard to Farrell!

  • 36.
  • At 10:53 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

Did anyone notice that when Toby Flood was called into the sqaud he was pictured on the BBC website with his club jersey on which has Northern Rock splashed across the front. Not the best of omens.

  • 37.
  • At 11:52 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • DSparky1 wrote:

Hopefully they will fight back now like Northen Rock seem to be!

  • 38.
  • At 12:42 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Tim Hopkins wrote:

Ben, All I'm saying is a great Captain can make good players better. And England do NOT have a great Captain. So we should not be suprised at our current position. A great Captain is the place to start. I bet you could find a great Enlish Captain with the budgets available - I know I could. A great Captain also fights for the team he knows can win. Ask Johnson and Eales. By the way Ponting is still the Captain of Australia cricket in all its variations. Tim

  • 39.
  • At 12:59 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Dave Darwen wrote:

Farrell is not the problem with this poor team, indeed when he has played he has been one of the better players. What has Wilkinson done? Crab along sideways running his outside backs out of position, something he has done throughout his career. Barkley has run around a few dopey Yanks and suddenly he's a world beater!

Wilkinson has all on to prove he is in the top 5 fly halves in the 6 nations, he is never (and never was) world class.

The pack is the second problem behind the coaching staff. The squad is worse, much worse than they were under Robinson. Rob Andrew has completely failed to have any positive impact on the international team. They may well win convincingly the next 2 games but we have to remember who they are playing, but no-worries mate when/if Aus come up we can always play Farrell and blame him when we get hammered.

Ashton's comments that Robbo is a winger, Corry is a 2nd rower. Then completely back tracks on this! Previous comments about the lack of pace is spot on.The lack of athletic ability in the pack is the major problem, that is why Moody has to play-because he can run-simple as that.

Pathetic really but there it is!

When the WC is over we will not recognise the next England squad as there will be so many new faces in there. It is only to be hoped that the new faces don't stop there and it continues though to the senior management.

  • 40.
  • At 01:00 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

Not posting my earlier comments in response to posts #12 and #15 then Bryn?

Presumably you have decided that there was too much sarcasm in my assessment of the views of ‘Darran Mather’ and ‘Ian’?

If so, then perhaps in the future you could be a little more selective about what postings you allow on your blog initially, thereby sparing us from reading that kind of rubbish in the first place (was post #12 really not likely to be provocative and offensive to a large number of people, and what did it have to do with the subject being discussed anyway?).

Either that, or please allow people to respond in a reasonable and hopefully humorous manner, provided of course that they do not resort to swearing, threats or vulgarity. This applies particularly when confronted by obvious stupidity.

Fear not - I for one will not be bothering to read or comment again if this is the kind of 'moderation' that you intend to practice.

  • 41.
  • At 01:01 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Peter Singleton wrote:

Bryn re your additional piece:

There is for sure a game plan, but question is will the execution match the plan. I have far more confidence in Wilko as a captain than I do Corry. Sorry, but his record speaks for itself, and he is just too slow now. I can also not fathom out why Dalaglio has been cast aside. Although against USA he was not outstanding, I would rate him a better pack leader than Corry and certainly a more successful one. The backs look to me to be OK, I just wonder about whether the pack can deliver the plan and enough reasonable ball for Wilko and the rest to get the points on the board.These reservations aside I am looking forward to England grinding out a victory to salvage at least some pride.

  • 42.
  • At 01:07 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • pds18464 wrote:

Rees worsley and Dallaglio smashed corry moody etc at the european cup, yet worsley an out & out 6 is played at 7, Rees our best hope at getting some ball ( and experience) is dropped and plodding old Martin Corry is retained to take two steps sideways then smash into the nearest defender with Easter who isnt doing much at all.

Clearly this team is totally designed to play 10/11 man rugby as have corry as extra jumper is the only logic I can see as the Samaoans dont have a line out or much of a scrum.

They will however murder us at the breakdown as for 3 years the robinson pod and obsession with mis matching some big slow bloke on the wing against a winger has taken precedent over getting quick ball.

If we play set piece to set piece we can tie this up in a nice dull match without troubling the backs . If we try and play the years of Robinson and this damage limitation squad again could be in for a rough night.

Can we please after this fiasco get rid of Francis Baron and let Andrew do a clean sweep of all of the coaching staff so we can start the six nations with at least 2/3 of the squad players who will be still in their 20's by the next world cup with a some experience (not walking wounded) to guide them.

This has been a miserable 4 years as a supporter please let this humiliation serve as a full stop and a new beginning

  • 43.
  • At 01:37 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

Gotta agree with most of the posts here. Major area of concern is the lack of balance in the backrow to which end the exclusion of Rees is just plain stupid! As a Bath man what strikes me is the apparent compromise made by BA for the RWC. He is a pragmatic coach and recognises the need for grunt and aggression up front but he's also always given youth and talent its head. In this tournament he seems to have regressed and stuck by old stagers who, historically, he wouldn't have dreamt of including. All I can think is that he was aiming/hoping for respectability in this tournament given the preparation time and restrictions forced upon him and behind closed doors has already started planning for RWC11? Well to hell with that! Come on BA let your creative juices loose! Let's take the game to the oppostion for a change. I can't cope with another impotent England display. It's becoming bloody impossible to face the Aussies at work!

  • 44.
  • At 02:35 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • David Boardman wrote:

Brian Ashton was always going to have a job on his hands when he took over considering what had gone before. And I know the injury count hasn't helped but surely there are too many wholesale changes being made for us to have any hope of getting some sort of act together. At this stage the 22 should be much more stable. I know many of you think that the squad is wrong but here we are and we need to make the best of it. Where possible we should have the fittest and fastest starting and in their best positions. Then things might start to click. And the likes of Dallaglio, Catt and probably Corry (as a lock), should be bringing their undoubted experience off the bench at half time or beyond to steady or spur the team as required. We need some stability and continuity.

  • 45.
  • At 02:54 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • DAVE wrote:

Forwards win rugby matches--England's are slow, old and weary. Therefore don't expect any wonders from the team next time out. The people who have the questions to answer concerning the WC squad selection are those who picked it. They are the guilty men for the debacle that is now the England team effort.Players play it is the coaches, selectors and men in suits who are the real culprits. They prepare the team,decide on a game plan and either prop up the bar afterwards taking the plaudits and telling stories of daring do or disappear into the night leaving the players to carry the can.

  • 46.
  • At 03:00 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • keith wrote:

I agree with the sentements behind posh players playing for England #12 & #15. But agree that in many cases they are our better players.

Why is that? simply put at U16, 18 & 20 public schools have a huge influence over who gets selected for international honours as their sporting reputations depend on it...

England has more juniors playing rugby than SA, Aus, and NZ combined so where are they all. Well most kids form Comps just give up or turn to soccer at 16 as they become hacked off at the injustice. The select few are then groomed by accademies or the recently introduced schools of rugby. If England wants to really be great at rugby start with a fair system for all.

  • 47.
  • At 03:15 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Baz wrote:

What strikes me about this blog is that Ashton apparently held a strategy conference with selected players which included neither captain - or, indeed, any forwards at all!

??????????????

Fine player though Wilkinson is (was?, he will make no difference if the pack do not provide any quick ball, and, as so many postings have pointed out, the back row will not do this. Last time we had Hill, Back and a Dallalio at his peak. At least if Farrell does not get on he won't be the centre of so much tedious debate. I don't know what makes me cringe more: some of the ignorant rants against him by prejudiced and ignorant fans or the immature retaliations from some of his supporters referring to 'posh union' players!

  • 49.
  • At 03:42 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • jimmyjimjames wrote:

There's no point picking such a bulky pack if, like against SA, the gameplan is to completely avoid taking on the opposition up front.
Why use a 'cheeky' front man option with the first line out, why throw beyond the lineout on your own line, and most importantly why take every lineout off the top when all the warm up matches have seen the rumbling drives upfield?!
Constantly crashing into the SA's midfield with a slower back row was crazy and hopefully won't be repeated, especially as this is now a back line that will surely look to go outside and around, not through, their opposite numbers.

  • 50.
  • At 03:46 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • keith wrote:

Graham...#46 not posh players, but the public school system we currently have. Big difference mate.

How else do explain why we have more young players, coaches and funding than any other nation and are still struggling in this world cup!!

  • 51.
  • At 04:05 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • madman wrote:

#15 ian and #12 Darren

What the hell are you talking about?

Wilkinson and Barkley are two of our best players, especially Barkley who is in form. It has nothing to do with "class"

Farrell and Catt would both be the first to admit that they have not had the best of tournaments. Again, Nothing to do with being "common" or being from League.

There are many players in the England Squad who are not "posh" i.e Paul Sackey, Lewsey, Stevens, Robinson ( oh look, a league convert) to name a few.

There are many fans of rugby who are not "posh" (including me who was born in Chatham, Kent), but enjoy the sport for what it is.

It is comments like yours that make the alleged "class divide" worse. Save your comments for something more constructive.

  • 52.
  • At 05:28 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Geoff wrote:

One of the Sky Sport Channels (ESPN) was last week replaying "Living with Lions" covering the victorious 1997 Lions tour of S.Africa. Did anyone notice that one Mr Dallaglio looked about 2 maybe even 3 stones lighter than he does now. I wonder whether a lot of the current problems with the England team are down to too much Creatine producing too much muscle both in forwards and backs.

  • 53.
  • At 06:05 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • GreatBigTiredOldHector wrote:

#12 Darran

"Posh accents and professional parents count for little when you've got 15 solid Kiwis in your face"

Nice one Big Darran and extremely relevant - we'll get Brian to put you in against the Samoans and Tongans ahead of posh Little Jonny then shall we? After all, he’s capable of speaking intelligently and has no past record of standing up to the big boys from the SH. Whereas you sound like a pretty solid warrior behind that keyboard of yours and I'm sure you could show us what a difference it makes to your rugby skills when your dad’s an amateur shepherd!

By the way, I didn't go to Public school, I don't have professional parents and I do rate Mike Catt and Andy Farrell even though they don't have posh English accents and didn't play well last week.

  • 54.
  • At 07:36 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Graham wrote:

Is Brian Ashton really listening to his players? is he giving them the chance to decide or is it all a smokescreen th stop people thinking that Mr Rob Andrew is having far to much input into team tactics (very clear from the extremely poor kicking plan on Friday)and team selection, why does he continue to select corry who is clearly out of his depth, Rees should be allowed to play this would allow some continuity for his and the future of england and for goodness sake someone who might get to the breakdowns with him now that Jason Robinson is injured, bring back clive woodward and get the backbone back into English Rugby.

  • 55.
  • At 08:17 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • ian wrote:

Well the posh word certainly got some attention. I am not from Rugby League land and I did not go to public school. Any of you with any experience of English age group rugby will know what is going on. England U16 and U18 teams are drawn predominantly from a few schools that depend on their sporting reputations. From this group most of our academy lads are drawn. Then after a few premiership games there is usually talk of an International cap and this perpetuates said schools reputation. Now I am not suggesting there are no players of talent among them but surely we must look a little harder. We are only scratching the surface of whats out there. Rob Andrew stated in his last season at the falcons that we may as well scrap English age group rugby for all the good it does, what action has he now taken? So all our training expertise is then directed at the few to make them as good as they can be. Fair enough but were they the right lads or just the offspring of someone with a few quid? One final thought if a young mixed race lad from a broken home in a poor area of a northern town had gone to his local union club would we have even heard of Jason Robinson? I doubt it. Hope I have made myself clearer.

  • 56.
  • At 08:49 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • darran mather wrote:

GBTOhector,

i'm not questioning the bravery of Wilkinson or Barkely. What I am doing is highlighting what most on here have already alluded to. There is an inherent bias towards public school boys ie Greenwood, a northern lad but public school boy. There are guys 'up north' who have rugby (Union and League) talent dripping out of their fingers but the RFU seem intent on pursuing the 'posh-boy' route. It is as though they're trying to preserve a culture in English RU at the expense of the English team. It explains the vile comments directed towards Farrell from the usual morons at the BBC, Telegraph and Times (Barnes, Guscott, Hewett, Jones etc etc). Robinson endured the same from Gemma Guscott but if one player has lit-up Twickenham like no other it is certainly Jason Robinson.

it's your game

  • 57.
  • At 10:17 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Ian wrote:

England colleges rugby team. Drawn from open trials within the college network. No interest whatsoever from the RFU ! No funding from the RFU not even any help with the kit. I wonder why that might be, afraid of finding a few rough diamonds perhaps? Welsh colleges, about three years ago they discovered a certain James Hook ! Of course we can get by without talent like that cant we.

  • 58.
  • At 12:24 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • woody wrote:

Okay, selection for Samoa has been made and its 'game on' and high time time to support the boys taking the park positively...... we are still being in the RWC by the way.

A few thoughts for the blog
'cauldron'to be supported; ignored or shredded!

1. Game Plan. Regrettably, the ball being incessantly hoofed down the park into welcoming arms giving the Boks unnec possession and/or scope to plant it back with interest, effectively lost Eng the game last Fri. Eng must strive to compete; win; retain and play with 'ball in hand' - period.

2. Short, high, 10m JW kick offs; the '8' organised and committed to driving up field as a unit,'staying on the feet' and providing required options to release timely attacking ball via Andy G to backs at pace.

3. Lineouts - must compete 'in the face for all x8o mins' on their ball to disrupt / secure. Scrums - we lacked 'policing' influence at scrum half Vs Boks (+poor refereeing I tht) inspite of the fact pressure was brought to bear. AG must ensure 'control' in every facet in set piece!

4. Options? As a key 'form' player, I believe Josh Lewsey would make a major impact for Eng at 13/12. Also, Andy Farrell at 15 - a) to master the high ball and marshal defence but b) principally for use as an attacking force coming into the line at pace.

  • 59.
  • At 12:51 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • woody wrote:

Okay, selection for Samoa has been made and its 'game on' and high time time to support the boys taking the park positively...... we are still being in the RWC by the way.

A few thoughts for the blog
'cauldron'to be supported; ignored or shredded!

1. Game Plan. Regrettably, the ball being incessantly hoofed down the park into welcoming arms giving the Boks unnec possession and/or scope to plant it back with interest, effectively lost Eng the game last Fri. Eng must strive to compete; win; retain and play with 'ball in hand' - period.

2. Short, high, 10m JW kick offs; the '8' organised and committed to driving up field as a unit,'staying on the feet' and providing required options to release timely attacking ball via Andy G to backs at pace.

3. Lineouts - must compete 'in the face for all x8o mins' on their ball to disrupt / secure. Scrums - we lacked 'policing' influence at scrum half Vs Boks (+poor refereeing I tht) inspite of the fact pressure was brought to bear. AG must ensure 'control' in every facet in set piece!

4. Options? As a key 'form' player, I believe Josh Lewsey would make a major impact for Eng at 13/12. Also, Andy Farrell at 15 - a) to master the high ball and marshal defence but b) principally for use as an attacking force coming into the line at pace.

  • 60.
  • At 12:59 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • keith wrote:

Good on you #57 #55 5, England needs people like yourselves to start standing up.

As it happens I'm a supporter of Wilkinson, etc, and am not a big fan of Farrel. That's not relevant, what is relevant is the dispraportinate number of public schoolboys in the top flight and the system that puts them there.

  • 61.
  • At 01:17 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • woody wrote:

Okay, selection for Samoa has been made and it’s 'game on' and high time to support the boys taking the park on Sat positively - we are still in the RWC by the way…… A few thoughts for the blog 'cauldron' to be supported; ignored or shredded:

1. Game Plan. Regrettably, the ball being incessantly kicked down the park from both set and open play into welcoming arms giving the Boks vital free possession to attack and/or scope to plant it back with interest, effectively lost Eng the game. Eng must strive to compete; win; retain and play with 'ball in hand'- period.

2. Short, high, 10m JW kick offs; the '8' organised and committed to driving up field as a unit, 'staying on feet' and providing required options via timely release of ball via Andy G to an attacking back line at speed.

3. Lineout – we must compete 'in the face’ for all x80 mins on their ball to disrupt / secure. Scrum - we lacked 'policing' influence at scrum half Vs Boks (+poor refereeing I thought) in spite of the fact good pressure was brought to bear. AG must ensure positive 'control' in every facet of set piece!

4. Options? As a key 'form' player, I believe Josh Lewsey would make a major impact for Eng at 13/12. Also, I see Andy Farrell in at 15 - a) to master the high ball and marshal defence and b) principally for use as an effective attacking force coming into the line at pace.

  • 62.
  • At 02:53 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Alan Melville wrote:

Wny are so many England supporters obsessed with class? It's not about class it's about money.

Face facts; if you want more kids from housing estates in the England team then they have to play rugby at school. State comps don't in general play rugby much and if they do it's very much second fiddle to wendyball. BUT, if you're a kid and you have the talent, would you play rugby at top level for relative peanuts or play in the premiership/championship for much more? Duh. It's like the yanks - how good could they be if they got some of the NFL talent playing rugby? But the NFL has much more money, so they don't.

In SA or NZ rugby players are the cream and get very highly paid. Here, they're not, because there are too many competing sports, so you can only select from the small minority who are brought up playing and loving rugby, and that usually means traditional rugby-playing schools. That most of these are private sector public schools is just an accident of history.

  • 63.
  • At 03:53 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Colonel wrote:

Never mind, there's always 2011.. And with Richard Hill(Bristol)as coach, here's the future world champs :-)
1. Sheridan
2. Mears
3. Stevens
4. Brown
5. Palmer
6. Easter
7. Rees
8. Ward-Smith
9. Ellis
10. Flood
11. Geraghty
12. Barkley
13. Hipkiss
14. Cipriani
15. Matthew Tait

Ok, the odd position might need a tweak or two, but these are the boys. Any comment ?

  • 64.
  • At 04:11 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Alan Melville wrote:

Don't think so, colonel; for one thing you've missed out Dave Strettle, and I think you'll need him, just a bit. For my money he's the best back you've had since Duckham. Anyway without a total retooling at the RFU, getting rid of the blazer brigade and employing a sensible selection policy that doesn't keep harking back to lost glories in a safety-first stick-it-up-the-jumper approach, England are screwed.

  • 65.
  • At 05:34 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • GreatBigTiredOldHector wrote:

#56 Darren

It's a little late and a little far-fetched to be claiming that you were only "highlighting what most on here have already alluded to". Your initial post (#12) was nothing more than a rant against people who's names, accents and parents you have taken objection to and I personally haven't noticed many posters on here agreeing with those particular sentiments (with the notable exception of Ian - and now Keith, who has unfortunately mistaken ranting for 'standing up for England'?).

#55 & #57 Ian

Are you really surprised that your use of the 'posh' word drew so much attention? Your initial post (#15) was also nothing more than an attempt to belittle anyone in English rugby with a public school connection and you didn't even get your facts right there (as pointed out by a number of other contributors to this blog). By all means criticise Brian Ashton for inadequate planning, poor squad/team selection or poor coaching, but it hardly seems fair to have a go at him for having been a teacher or for having mysterious links to posh schools. Of course you have 'made yourself clearer' this time around because your first post did not actually contain any references to a flawed system of selection and was really just mindless abuse. You now appear to be regurgitating an earlier post by Keith (#46), which may have some merit, in an attempt to justify your earlier outburst.

All three of you no doubt have a valid point when you suggest that English rugby appears to be dominated by ex-public school pupils, but I personally believe that to be due to a simple matter of historical development rather than an abundance of protective posh boys in the RFU and the media. I would be the first to admit that I am no expert on rugby union or rugby league, at grass-roots level or any other level for that matter, and I am merely a fan who enjoys watching both forms of the game (except for last Friday). If you are justified in claiming that the RFU are not encouraging or funding state school rugby, or that they are ignoring state school pupils in the search for rugby playing talent, then you are of course correct to raise it and champion it as an important issue.

When I attended a Comprehensive school in the south of England, the sports curriculum was dominated by football in winter and cricket in summer. You would have been lucky if you could find a teacher who knew the rules of rugby, let alone one who was willing to coach a team. Admittedly that was more than 30 years ago, but I suspect that the situation is not a great deal different today. Rugby union is obviously still much stronger in public schools because that is where it's historical base in England has always been and where the best coaches are - hence the predominance of ex-public schoolboys in English rugby union. I cannot say much about rugby league or the situation with schools in the north because I know little about either, but again I suspect that league has attracted the majority of talented ex-state school pupils because it was initially the only code that was professional.

To sum up, it could well be that the current ‘system’ in England is biased and unfair, but that does not make it right to just slag-off the products of that system. Firstly, it is not their fault, and secondly, like it or not, they are the best that we currently have.

Enough - lets hope for a big improvement against Samoa this weekend.

  • 66.
  • At 06:05 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • David Bramwell wrote:

Ashton has not carried an outstanding record with him wherever he has been and of course the RFU have not got the brains to go for someone who has proven himself.It is fine Guscott hailing BA as a great backs coach but as a manager he is shockingly bereft of ideas,planning and selection common sense.
Coming back to the squad chioce, we left behind most of the young guns who would likely to playing in the 2011 RWC. Instead, BA went for has beens and no-hopers such as Farrell & Catt. These chaps cannot pass,kick or dictate a game but i take my hat off to Catt who last season was playing out of his skin for London Irish. Selection of top quality players will become even more difficult after the RWC as we will witness the avalanche of foreign 'superstars' invade the Premiership and take valuable english possibles places.What a way to nurture our national interests!

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