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England: the hard evidence

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Tom Fordyce | 18:55 UK time, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

England, says Martin Johnson, are getting better. "There is progress and improvement," he said after Saturday's draw at Murrayfield. "We have the potential there."

It was a comment that raised a lot of eyebrows, not to mention a few hackles. If there are green shoots poking through, they don't seem to be hugely evident to many England fans.

So, in the spirit of enquiry, I've been doing a little research. A morning digging out some detailed statistics, an afternoon picking the brains of World Cup winners, coaching staff and current players.

Throughout it all, we'll try to be as positive as possible, both to lift the mood and refute complaints of media negativity. Spring, after all, is in the air, and in any case, no-one likes a whinger.

Stats first. Johnson has been in charge for 23 months, so I've looked at three Six Nations seasons - 2008, Brian Ashton's last tournament in charge, as the pre-Jonno yardstick; 2009, and this championship so far.

England boss Martin JohnsonJohnson says there are plenty of reasons for England fans to be optimistic

Let's get the simple stuff out of the way early. In 2008, Ashton's England finished second in the table with a win-loss record of 3-2. Johnson's men repeated that last year. England, third at present, could still match that position this time around - if they beat France, and Ireland lose to Scotland. Will that happen? Remember, we're being optimistic. Let's dig a little deeper.

In 2008, England scored eight tries and conceded five. In 2009, the ratio was 16:5. So far this season, with the game in Paris to come, it's 5:5.

Those are harder numbers to be upbeat about. England might yet shut out France at the weekend, but Marc Lievremont's free-running side will fancy adding to their 13 tries so far. Can England score the three tries they need to match the tally from two years ago, and get even halfway to last year's total? In the whole of the 2008-09 season, England scored 26 tries. So far in 2009-10, they've scored six. Omens have been more promising.

We'll broaden it out to points scored. In 2008, 108; in 2009, 124. This season England have a grand total of 78. This decline is steeper than any experienced by their northern hemisphere rivals; while the men in white were the second-highest scorers in 2008 and the joint highest in '09, they now lie fourth.

To the nitty-gritty nasty business up front. Two years ago, England won 21 turnovers, the most of any team in the championship. Last year they did even better, with 33 - again, the best of the bunch. This year, they've won just five, fewer than any other nation. France have three times as many.

England winger Ugo MonyeEngland have found tries hard to come by

The number of off-loads from the tackle tell a similar tale. 30 in 2008, up to 43 a year ago, and now down to 22. There's a game to come, of course, but that's the lowest number in the championship.

What of line breaks? England produced 16 in Ashton's last season, when Danny Cipriani flowered so briefly against Ireland, and 21 last year, as many as Grand Slam champions Ireland. This season they've made 12.

I can sense some of that positivity ebbing away, so let's try to lift the mood. The error-count dropped in Johnson's first season and continues to do so - from 69 in 2008 to 54 in 2009 and now down to 31. There are those who say that simply reflects England's lack of adventure and ambition - France have made 54 errors this season, and they're on the brink of a Grand Slam - but we're supposed to be looking on the bright side, so let's move on.

Enough of the stats. What's the view from within the camp? Here's what the always-honest Lewis Moody, who's seen plenty of different England teams over his half-century of caps, told me at the team's training HQ on Wednesday.

"It's weird, because inside the squad there's probably the best atmosphere there has been since 2003," he said. "The coaches have put a lot of effort into creating the right environment, where everyone feels able to talk to them, whether you're a senior player or a young lad, and it feels like a very positive place to be.

"Now we understand that it doesn't matter what happens in the hotel or on the training pitch, that it's about results and performances, but there's so much reason for optimism. You see the talent in this squad close up and you know.

"We should have been going for the Grand Slam this weekend - we were in a position against Ireland where we were winning with eight minutes to go and should have finished it off, and Scotland was another we should have won.

"Without playing our best rugby, we could be going into this weekend having won four out of four, and that says a lot of a team that's only really been playing at 70%. There's a lot more to come from this side."

Austin Healey, who has watched every England match this season from the stands and pored over the tapes in his job as analyst for BBC Sport, doesn't quite see it the same way.

"At this point, asking me now, I can't see much improvement at all over the last year, and in particular over this Six Nations," he told me. "While they've won some games this year, they haven't won enough, and their performances haven't been up to scratch.

"I don't think you can spot any discernable style of play they're aiming for. Listening to the ref-link during the matches, they seem to have a lot of calls for a lot of plays, but they don't seem to know how to implement them in games. Some of the players like to do certain things that potentially don't match each other, and that's causing big issues.

"There are basic requirements they aren't getting right. Their alignment in the backs between 10, 12 and 13 is what's really breaking the game down for them, and their constant inability to win quick ruck ball would kill any team.

"We never see the forwards running off 10 or 12 or even in the wider channels. Their off-loading beyond the tackle is poor, and their rucking at the moment is pretty much non-existent. They don't get past the ball at the moment - the majority of England forwards just flop on the ball, which just slows up their own passages of play.

"I believe Martin Johnson needs to make some changes to his coaching staff, but I also believe that if you look at that England side, five years ago they maybe would have had three, four or five players in a world XV, whereas at the moment I'm not sure there's one player who would even get in a composite Six Nations team. And that's quite worrying.

"As a team you have to find your way through it, but I'm not sure this team knows a different pathway."

World Cup winner Josh Lewsey feels the same. "I don't think it is through lack of effort, and you can't fault the attitude - the players are giving everything," he told my colleague Bryn Palmer this week. "I am just not convinced it is entirely clear how they are trying to play the game and what the overall plan is - not just in each game, but in terms of developing the team towards the World Cup next year."

Ah, team development. Johnson has been criticised for favouring old stagers ahead of young guns. Even as he gave Ben Foden and Chris Ashton their first starts against France, he brought back the grizzled likes of Mike Tindall and Simon Shaw.

How do the stats for this add up? I've taken the starting XVs for the last three meetings with France (the 24-13 win under Ashton in 2008, the 34-10 thumping last year and the team announced by Johnson on Wednesday). The average age of each? Exactly the same - 28 years old. If it's hardly a rush of fresh blood, it's not an aging team either.

England forwards coach John WellsWells has found himself carrying the can for England's displays

To the England hierarchy. Assistant coach John Wells sees the squad in action every day they're in camp. He's also the man who seems to cop most flack from press and punters for England's poorer displays.

When I put him on the spot, Wells told me there were four areas where he feels England have genuinely improved over the last 18 months - starting with their scrummaging.

"We've brought young kids with very few or no caps into the fierce world of international rugby," he said. "Matt Mullan's been capped, David Wilson, Dylan Hartley - and Dan Cole too, who's having an outstanding season. Bringing in one young guy to an experienced front row is one thing, but to bring in three or four on a regular basis - I think we've done a really good job of blending those guys into the system and producing a pretty good scrum.

"We've also found a way of getting the forwards more involved in the game as ball-carriers, whether it's tight or three metres from the fringes, or in the slightly wider channels. I'm not saying we've done it well, or that we've got the balance right - I don't think we have. But a lot of the tries we've created have come from good driving pressure close to the fringes.

"Thirdly, we're actually creating loads and loads of opportunities. What we're not doing is finishing them. It might not seem so, but if you watch it back, there have been a lot of four-on-twos and three-on-ones. If we weren't creating them, that would be far more worrying. It's frustrating for us and for people to watch that, but we will start taking those chances.

"Fourthly - and it's quite right that people have been critical, because we haven't been securing the results - we've been in positions to win games. Against Ireland at the death, we drove 20 metres from a line-out right up to their line. We didn't finish it as we should have done, and that's our fault, but if we had, we'd have won the game. We weren't stuck on our own line. Something similar happened against Scotland - in injury-time, we marched on and on, and then just missed the drop-goal chance."

So there we have it. Set fair, becalmed or sinking fast? "I would love to see England doing better," stresses Healey. "I hate watching them lose, and it all sounds very negative. But it's very hard to find any positivity at the moment."

I'll let you make your own mind up from here.


  • Comment number 1.

    A team often reflects it's manager/coach. That's why England are grafters, but are far from pretty or imaginative.

    I find them painful to watch.

  • Comment number 2.

    What you also have to remember for the 2009 stats is that Italy played at Twickenham. The same game where Bergamasco was at scrum-half and gifted England 3 tries.

  • Comment number 3.

    I second that Dell-icious. Brawn seems to have overpowered creativity. I've got better things to do with my weekends than watch gym-monkeys smash into eachother with no imagination or creativity. I don't know where it comes from; the coaches, the interpretation of the laws, the grassroots learning of the modern game? My heroes growing up were Campese, Blanco, Sella. Wonderful players, I wonder how they'd do in the modern game, it seems so stifling with the onus only on power. That said, the French were a joy to watch on Sunday - Should a grand upset occur on Super-Saturday, regardless of the result, England are lightyears behind France and the Tri-Nations teams on current form. Anyone who says different is deluded IMO!

  • Comment number 4.

    England are hardly awe inspiring and not prone to exciting watchable rugby at the moment.

    To me it's pure and simple, there just isn't the talent there, especially in comparison to yesteryear. Players have fits and starts of spark (Armitage, Flutey etc) and others aren't built for the journey (Borthwick, the scrum half position has been an issue for yonks now).

    Coupled with the fact that MJ just isn't a very good coach. I mean come on he is learning his trade, the hard way in full public glare - as opposed to Declan Kidney did the same but with the Irish U19's, Munster etc. Captain on the pitch is one thing and he was a great captain, but being a coach is quite another and hard to pull off.

    Think the 6N's table reflects the truth which after all the only statistic that matters.

    I don't expect much to change, its too late now before the RWC to change.

  • Comment number 5.

    It seems like you are comparing the 5 games in 2008 and 2009 with the 4 so far this year? Couldn't you separate the statistics to compare all the fixtures in previous years minus France whom they have yet to play.

    This isn't really a proper analysis.

  • Comment number 6.

    Whilst statistics in themselves prove nothing they do not suggest that England are improving in anyway shape or form which is basically what anyone who has watched them this year. They appear to lack any sort of coherant plan and the lack of offloads, tries and turnovers are all worrying. John wells analysis is somewhat baffling and from watching BBC coverage the overwhelming theme has been the lack of opportunities and not the "loads and loads" that wells suggests!

    From another angle, signs of progress would indicate players who have cemented themselves in the side with top quality performances and I'm struggling to think of anyone who has consistently shone throughout this tournament and would be an automatic selection which is worrying with the world cup only 18ish months away!

    Whilst it is nice that some changes have been made for Saturdays game, notably foden (I know people felt this was a shoe in but then we felt the same after the Ireland game!). I'm surprised flutey has kept his place since he has, from my recollection, shown none of the promise of the end of the 2009 tournament and with 12 being a key playmaker in the side he has been standing SO far away from wilkinson, jonny has had little option but to kick! Tindall, I feel is a very negative move aimed solely to stop basteraud but he doesn't possess the ability of tait (when he has been given quick ball) to sythe through a defence and he has been to my mind our most creative back of this 6 nations campaign (I realise this is not a difficult award to win!).

    On another note tom, having recently read and enjoyed yours and bens book I was wondering if there is going to be a 2010 world ubogu championship.

  • Comment number 7.

    Scotsevensnutjob, unless England play total rugby for 80mins they are not going to get near those stats for previous years. In the other years you also have variables such as that they alternate home and away

  • Comment number 8.

    Jonno is saying that he is now using the full squad of 22 and ensuring all are playing. This would be a big positive but for the problem of what is the game plan? The ball is moved too slowly from the ruck, the speed of passing and movement is pedestrian which allows defending teams to always be there in numbers.
    Hopefully some of the new guys will inject some pace and invention - as long as they are allowed to under the regime. I get the feeling the coaching staff are exerting to much control and they are not allowing freedom to play naturally. Flutey, Armitage, Wilkinson all have looked static and unsure of their wider roles?
    Maybe the France game will show a different side of England?

  • Comment number 9.

    John Wells is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Watching tapes of past England sides, especially c.99-03, is a depressing experience: the forwards are far more dynamic, offloading better and recycling quicker. Its very strange to think that this aspect of the games has slowed down, but in England's case its undeniable. The evidence is there. Wells can not duck the responsibility. Verbatim reporting of squad members comments is a waste of space, its all so bland and predictable. The truth is in the archives.

  • Comment number 10.

    Wells' comments are astonishing, frankly. I'd love to know what exactly he considers an 'opportunity'. Being in your own 22, perhaps? Certainly sounds that way from those comments...

    As for Johnson, personally I've lost a lot of respect for him after his decision to drop Wilkinson for Flood in this game, which will probably be the hardest of the tournament (no disprespect to the other sides involved intended). Now, Flood may well deserve a chance, though I personally think the criticism of Wilkinson has been ridiculous for the most part. It's not his fault he's had bugger all support from his fellow backs. But this is NOT the right game to play Flood - he deserves an easier introduction than this. It's hardly a fair opportunity for him. What's worse is Johnson's reasoning behind the decision. It's pretty obvious that he has always considered Wilkinson to be first choice fly half, rightly or wrongly. Now he's saying that he needs to find out more about his 'squad players' for the World Cup... Yeah, 'cause you're totally going to play your second XV against France, aren't you? *sighs* Absolutely ludicrous.

    In Johnno's defence, though, I am a fan of the decision to bring in Tindall and Foden. And maybe Ashton can show some form on the wing, though I won't be getting my hopes up... No offence to the lad, I've had enough of trying to lift my hopes for any England team under Johnson's charge. He was an excellent captain, and he may well make an excellent manager one day at this level, but this job just came along too early in his career for him. Time to find a new head coach/manager ASAP, if you ask me!

  • Comment number 11.

    The simple facts are that this team are crippled by the fear of failure and hamstrung by a lack of a corehent gameplan, you can see it most prominantly in Danny Care and Johnny Wilkinson, against Ireland Care made two or three nice breaks (or was involved in them) and everytime after getting 5m or 10m over the game line he aimlessly kicked the ball. A man confident of the support of his team mates and his own ability would have continued with the run in the hope of getting through, offloading or simply recycling the ball and keeping possession but he cant rely on his team mates to be on his shoulder and doesn't want to be saddled with post match analysis of how he shouldn't have done this or that. But then again this is just avoiding the elephant in the room that a lot of these players simply are not good enough and its rubbing off on the others, Wilkinson stands 20 yards behind every ruck because Care has to run five yards with it before passing, Steve Borthwick shouldn't even be in the squad let alone CAPTAIN! I could go on but whats the point, whats the point in anything? watching england is enough to turn anyone into a nihilist.

  • Comment number 12.

    I find England ponderous, ploddy, lacking ideas and they look like they are more comfortable kicking possession away so that they dont have to make any attacking decisions. Its all negative stuff as far as I'm concerned.

    For me I'd like a bit of flair, some guile and moreover, be entertained by a team who look like they are enjoying playing the game of Rugby. Right now they are not and boy, does it show.

  • Comment number 13.

    Watching England this season I find myself screaming time and again 'quick ball! Quick ball!' But there the ball is, stuck on the ground while the opposition have time to regroup, position their defenders, have a cup of tea, watch a movie . . . there is no flair, no imagination, no fluency at all. I would dispute that we have talent - I think we do - but it is being utterly stifled by the current coaching regime and after two years it is time for Johnno and the current coaching staff to go. If there is any improvement it is in their minds only, I'm afraid

  • Comment number 14.

    Generally, when a team is underperforming the manager and players will try and have it their own way in terms of analysis. If they lose and are criticised they will argue that the performance was good and that they are making progress, if they win and are criticised they will argue that it is simply the result that matters.

    Sadly, this has been the case over the course of the 6N and the Autumn Internationals with England and it is becoming tiresome. There is something quite depressing about listening to MJ - a man who ducked absolutely nothing and was brutally, almost aggresively, honest when wearing an England shirt - continually refuse to face up to the harsh reality that he must be perfectly well aware of when the cameras aren't on him.

    People say stats can be used to prove anything and often, when certain stats are taken in isolation, they are right. However, when all the numbers point towards decline and the results on the pitch also back them this argument then it becomes harder and harder to deny or ignore the problem. Yet that seems to be what is happening in the England camp.

    The figures in this blog (most of which I remember seeing in a Times article last week Tom?) are damning. The 6N table no less so. Rather than progressing, England are actively regressing. This has been plain to anyone watching over the course of this tournament and yet it has taken until the last game for changes to be made (with the caveat that many of them have actually been prompted by injury.

    One of the hardest things for me to stomach is the cowardly nature of these changes: there is little pressure in making significant changes for a game that most of the world expects you to lose anyway. If they don't come off you can simply shrug off a defeat by saying we were beaten by the Grand-Slam champions like every other side. If they do, you can bask in the glory and argue again that you're making progress.

    If someone had had the courage to make these changes when there WAS something at stake then England - unlikely as it seems from here - could have been in with a shout of the title. England may win against France. Unlikely, but possible. If they do, I would argue that it makes their crime of conservative, unimaginative selection earlier in the tournament even greater. I certainly would not see it as vindication of the management or as a suggestion that things are getting better.

    It has been a depressing tournament for most sides, the French excepted. For England its on the verge of being catastrophic.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well done Tom for trying to be positive regarding English rugby at the moment, but it is hard. Wells comments hurt the most, they are in this cocoon, where no-one can enter, and they have convinced themselves that there is progress!!
    In fairness - bringing in new players in the scrum - fair point, but would that have happened if Vickery and Sheridan had been fit.
    It frustrates me the way england get close to the oppositions line and then pick and drive constantly. Yes do it to draw in defenders but nothing ever goes out wide, is it Danny Care's fault that he is not strong enough, or is it embedded in their minds to default to that style of rugby. On this point again, forwards are running where backs are, but they never offload in the tackle, and quick ball is the aim.
    Creating 3 on 1's - it has happened, not very often but it has happened but why cant they execute - Smith was supposed to be the best backs coach in england, but I have not seen much. Why are the players not doing drills on 3 on 1's, this is the basics of the game.
    Wells last point - we nearly won Scotland and Ireland. MJ when he was captain was the master of winning close, tight games. Either we are playing a limited style of rugby and win, or we loose a few and develop our style of play. At the moment we are playing limited style and losing a few.
    Until there is fair assessment from everyone involved in English rugby, we are not going to progress forward as a team. The answer, Im not sure, as it is too close to a World Cup to change too much

  • Comment number 16.

    Just great management on England's part. Possibly the hardest game of the tournament, against the French in Paris so lets bring in Foden and Ashton for their first starts. Well done!

  • Comment number 17.

    If the manager over the last 2 years was Joe Bloggs and England had been turning out the same performance as they have done, would Joe Bloggs still have a job? I don't think so.

  • Comment number 18.

    First post since I commented on Rob Howley's retirement so please bear with me, I'll try not to ramble!

    One of the most frequent comments we hear concerns the amazing talent amongst England's playing resources - in fact Lewis Moody is quoted here referring to it. Well sorry but the personnel in the current squad just aren't as impressive relative to other teams in the same way that the World Cup winning team was. I'm not necessarily even thinking individually here but more in terms of units - front row, back row, midfield, back three. For years through the 90s and early noughties, the England pack would more or less be picked for the Lions en masse - not today. In addition, while I'm not a believer in Woodward as a pure rugby coach, he stole a march on the rest of the rugby world in spotting the scope to take fitness and conditioning to a new level which ensured England could win games as much through defense as attack - that opportunity no longer exists to such a degree, the other major nations have basically caught up. Expectations therefore need to be adjusted in terms of grand slams and world cups.

    Otherwise, it all comes down to quick ball, support play and clinical finishing, as it always had done in this game, amateur era or professional. This has been the key difference between southern and nothern hemisphere rugby for as long as I can remember with only France and England occasionally matching up. Super14 is all over the shop in many ways, but if a player makes a break then a bunch of support players are always right up on his shoulder. Even in the more successful latter years of the Woodward era, there was only really a 6-12 month period where England really put that kind of attacking play completely together on a sustained basis. Often the team would troop off having won yet voice their disappointment in terms of performance precisely because a number of try-scoring opportunities had gone begging.

    Quick ball, support play and clinical finishing. It's not rocket science and it doesn't require a genius fly half either for teams to dominate - eg Grant Fox, Rob Andrew and indeed Wilkinson when in the World Cup winning team. The dominant South African team of the last 2-3 years will not exactly be remembered for its fly half. The current England coaching staff clearly need to change something to achieve this - either player technique and systems or the players themselves. If neither is forthcoming then the coaching staff will need to change.

  • Comment number 19.

    England - awful in every fepartment. With this current crop of players we should be able to play decent, competetive rugby. We are not asking for them to be world beaters just to be able to have a go.

    If no improvement happens extremely quickly then Andrew should go first! He should then hold the door open for the rest to leave. It's an utter shambles.

  • Comment number 20.

    "Thirdly, we're actually creating loads and loads of opportunities. What we're not doing is finishing them. It might not seem so, but if you watch it back, there have been a lot of four-on-twos and three-on-ones. If we weren't creating them, that would be far more worrying."

    This to me just reaks of mediocrity- how a professional outfit can't finish off four-on-twos and three-on-ones is beyond me. As far as i'm concerne the only man worth keeping is Johnson (just). Get the right people around him, Booth from Irish, maybe even Dean Richards when he's back. At the top Rob Andrew has had more than enough time- Clive Woodward should replace him and be in charge of all thigs Rugby across England.

    The draw against Scotland was one of the worst matches i have ever seen- we did not threaten their line once!!! Selecting Foden is a step in the right direction but on the flip side selecting Tindall is a waste of time. Flood is so lacking in class and will never cut it at International level (i bet my bottom dollar Wilkinson would have landed one of those chances against Scotland, if not all of them). I haven't got enough time to state all of the changes that need to be made but there's a start!

  • Comment number 21.

    I said to my wife after watching England's performances this season that I understand exactly why she doesn't like rugby. The procession that was the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday was more exciting to watch than England playing in the 6 Nations this season.

  • Comment number 22.

    tom...thanks for trying to be positive. But I must agree with 99% of those that have watched and supported England throughout this campaign. England's performances have all too often been painful to watch, particularly the Scotland and Italy games. These are opponents that England SHOULD be beating comfortably. These are worrying times. I agree that something needs to change, but can we afford to do this now?

    What will we do if Johnson does step down? we tried the experience and guile of Ashton and the players didn't seem to respond to him very well. They asked for more structure, someone to hold their hands, so we ended up with MJ. What is the solution? Where do we go? Who else is there to lead this team and unlock their true potential? Does anyone have any ideas? I'd love to hear them...

  • Comment number 23.

    Personally I don’t think there has been any improvement at all. I think England are looking like the ghost of a good team.
    I think the squad MJ has picked for the France Game shows his big problem as a manager. Hes terrified of making mistakes!
    As Im sure has all ready been said going in to this game england have nothing to loose. Why not treat this as a great opportunity to give the younger players a run out.
    Ashton and Foden should have been starting since the Wales game, yet i feel unless MJ hand hadn’t been forced by injury and a dire performance by Armitage they still wouldn’t be starting.
    and the inclusion of Tindel and worsley at the loss of haskel and tait only shows one think he’s looking to limit damage in this game and not to pose any attacking threat, again down to fear of mistakes.
    We need a real shake up in the England set up. From Rob Andrew down!

  • Comment number 24.

    #18, Strategist - Ecxellent comments. And as you say it isn't rocket science.

  • Comment number 25.

    I agree with all of the comments about the total lack of realism in the England camp. If they don't have a clue how bad things are, how can they work to improve them?

    However, it's not only the coaching that's going wrong. Selection policy is a total mess.

    England are lacking leaders and playmakers on the pitch. A pack leader to marshall forces at the breakdown (think Dallaglio or Johnson). A half-back to spot chances and initiate attacks. Sorting out these pivotal roles would take real bravery in selection policy, and it would require accepting mistakes and the odd bad performance. MJ appears incapable of either.

    For example, what on earth was the point of dropping Wilko, now of all times? And not even for a creative dynamo like a Geraghty. I understand that he's not a leader and works best outside a creative scrum-half, but the sad truth is that even Dan Carter would look rubbish if his scrum-half took half a minute to pass already-slow ball to him, and he then found himself half a mile from the inside centre who's off picking daisies a couple of inches from the touchline! So now Toby Flood inherits this poisoned chalice. Marvellous.

  • Comment number 26.

    I get the distinct impression that very few members of the RFU or Jonno's coaching staff read these blogs. Contributors are not professional coaches et al but I suspect the views featured here are from people who have been in and around rugby for a long time...we have seen brilliance and we have seen rubbish and I absolutaley believe us bloggers know the difference between the two!! It amazes me that Jonno and his gang and the blimps at the RFU don't seem to. England are poor and right now it is difficult to see where a world class squad is going to come from and unless we have a management that has the courage to lose because they bring on young, raw talent it is never going to improve. Come on Jonno and the RFU let's have some honesty and realism for a bloggers know what we are talking about!!

  • Comment number 27.

    England are depressing to watch at the moment! Particularly dissapointed that Ashton & Foden have had to wait until France to get a start. So many people were screaming for them to be used from the outset and perhaps if they had of been we might of seen a slight improvement in the right direction. After all scoring a few tries could have lifted the confidence of the team. Now they are involved in a game which is meaningless. If we win it will be because the French folded under the pressure. If we lose they will no doubt be hung out to dry like Stefon Armitage and countless other players who they have failled to develop. All the while players like Borthwick keep their place (even with injuries) and players like Lawes get no opporunity to show what they can do. Why have Lawes in the squad if you send him back to his club and bring in Tom Palmer when the captain might not be able to play. Not as if there is going to be a leadership void!
    Cueto summed it up best for me in the last couple of days when he stated that the team spend too much time analysing the oposition and not enough time developing there own game plan. This is the basis of Martin Johnson's managerial nous, tactics based on stopping the opposition i.e Worsley & Tindall rather than picking our own game plan. Is that why the team play in such a confused way? Coaching wise if they have been taught to nullify the opposition would this leave them clueless when during some periods of a game they achieve this end and then they don't know what to do after. Either way l am fairly confident that we will see nothing different whilst Johnson and the coaching team remain. As close as we are to a WC l cannot see how the current set up will provide anything like a competitive team. Its sole destroying to think we will stick with this group of coaches and manager in the sure knowledge that we will do nothing in the WC and then fire them straight afterwards. Is there any yard stick by which these people are going to be judged outside of a poor performance in the WC? The RFU make so much money and treat the fans as revunue generators (just like any normal business) why then must they keep there jobs when if this was a share owned company they would be gone by the end of the 6 nations? At the very least stop telling the public we are moving in the right direction its insulting!

  • Comment number 28.

    The players seem to play by numbers, it looks over thought and mechanical. It's dire stuff to watch.

    Slow ruck ball, constant driving around the fringe gaining little or no ground, slow distribution by Danny Care, JW and the entire backline standing far too deep, forwards in the backs line getting in the way.

    Rugby is essentially an easy game, play with quick ball to unsettle defenses, get the ball to your most dangerous runners and support them.

    We dont seem to be able to manage the basics of taking advantage of a simple overlap, prime example JW passing the ball into touch when trying to pass the ball to Hartley (the hooker was standing on the wing !?) when the easy pass and most dangerous ball was to Flutey on his right shoulder. Goal kicking aside, JW has been poor this 6N's.

  • Comment number 29.

    Martin Johnson and his coaching staff are damned if they do, damned if they don't. The problem is that I have not heard a single pundit put their hand up, name a successor and articulate a playing strategy that will generate results. Rather than the constant barrage of negative critique it should, being rugby after all, a case of "put up or shut up!"

    If I had to criticise the current set-up it would be that fear of failure is utterly smothering the will to win. The England pack is a shadow of the beast that terrorised teams in the 90s and early noughties...the failure to commit players to rucks in the Scotland game was bewildering and led to one turnover after another. I hate the expression but there is some serious "fronting-up" to be done. Perhaps the dropping of the invisible Haskell is a start...yet I can guarantee that he will jog, preening, onto the pitch at some point on Saturday such is the the "continuity at all costs" approach.

    That in turn leads to the second point. England were right to introduce the centrally contracted system as a means of developing a core group of players rather than constantly chopping and changing as happened in the past. The problem is that this has been taken to an extreme with players just back from injury being selected over and above incumbents. The performances of Flutey, Armitage and Monye are a case in point. Those positions should have been filled with match-fit form players...the returning injured need time to rehabilitate and to demonstrate that they are still the force that they once were. To insist that there are 22 players who are the best in the country...all the ridiculous. The result is that we have several fine players severely demoralised and untried replacements.

    I think that MJ has actually made the right decision in putting Tindall into the team. Sure he is yesterdays man but he has a job to do in clattering Bastereaud. I'm still a big fan of Tait who has been starved of ball quick enough to make any sort of break, but he's not right for this game. I recall that it was the myopic decision to stick to plan A with a lightweight speedster that saw Tony Underwood's career ended under the wheels of Jonah Lomu. Just a little bit of lateral thinking and the stationing of a big hard tackling loose forward as "right wing for the day" would have seen Mr. Lomu spend his afternoon on his backside in touch and history would have been very different (England team mysteriously debilitated by stomach upset before world cup final??? ;-))

    Yours etc etc in constant hope that something may suddenly click!

  • Comment number 30.

    The fact you need to question whether England have improved shows that, on the pitch at least, they haven't. If they had I think we would be able to see the results.
    Our performances over the last few years seem to have completely stagnated, with every step forward there seems to be a step back, a constant barrage of false dawns.
    However, the positive mood within the camp sounds very positive, if the England squad enjoying playing they will improve their playing, with luck we can see this come across on the pitch before too long.

  • Comment number 31.

    As much as I hate agreeing with Austin Healey his comments about the forawards are correct. They never appear in the 9/10/12 channel, are lazy at the ruck and have very poor handling skills. The reason the French are number 1 in this tournamnet is because their front 5 get around the park and make holes in the defence.

  • Comment number 32.

    It's not just England, all the 6N teams look slow, laboured and devoid of ideas.
    Scorelines have only blown out when teams have been short a man. There hasn't been a lot of endeavour shown this championship.
    The way I see it even France would have to play their very best and hope for their opposition to have an off day to beat a 3N team. However at least they are playing rugby, the other 5 teams look very average.
    As for a loose forward stopping Lomu ha ha...

  • Comment number 33.

    Anglophone makes an extremely good point. Both about Tindall and the 'in form' argument.

    There can be no argument that Flutey, Armitage, Monye and, more crucially I think, Wilkinson have underperformed this last few weeks. There are many English 12's and wings who could have had some important game time when it was clear the players were off the boil in matches. Ok, so none of us see training, or know what's going on behind then scenes, but Armitage has played 4, flunked 4 so far this tournament, flutey 3 of 3, and Wilko 3 of 4. If the players arent firing, then they need to be looked at closer and new thoughts need to be introduced. I cant be bothered to name all the english form players in the GP, but there are plenty of players around. Foden is a class example, dropped vs Italy when we 'reactively' (i'll come back to this) went for beef on the bench to 'cope with' the tight 5 of the italians, he then came on in the next game against the irish and was England's stand out 20 minutes.

    The Tindall point: im a big fan of Tindall, he does what he says, and usually does it well. However! To me, this appears to be another massive "reactive" change. Including Tindall, and moving Worsley to 6, at the expense of Haskell, is I think the totally wrong message to be sending people. In the article, Wells etc have said: "we're upset, we could have been in the position to win the Grand Slam, but for missed oppurtunities"...however, their tactical choices and team set up, for me, belie that thought. If they were as confident in their ability to win the game, and make the French think on their feet with how to cope with US, then they would not feel the need to expend with 2 of our best players, in the place of defensive muscle. Ok, Tindall is there to counter Basteroud when the French have the ball, fine. But what happens when we have the ball? Tindall, bless him, is a bit of a liability there. So, to include him and Worsley, 2 non-ball-carrying players (again: both GOOD defensive players), doesnt exactly comply with what the england staff are telling us. Johnno says "i want us to play sexy, exciting rugby," then takes out Tait and Haskell...what he meant is: "I want us to play sexy, exciting rugby...but I don't think we're good enough and I want to limit the damage."

    I hope we play well on saturday, and I hope very much that Tindall and Shaw roll back the years and wow us with here-to-for unexpected fleetness of foot and mind...I cant say im optimistic though!

  • Comment number 34.

    comparing stats from previous tournaments is irrelevant, its the here and now thats important. theres been two sets of rule changes from 2008-now not to mention a change of attack coach and numerous player changes. whats important is that england are playing poorly within themselves and when compared to other teams now and johnson has left it too late to make changes.

    the sign of a good coach in any sport is the ability to identify where things aren't working and change them quickly. in other words take action when it can still make a difference. whether thats making an early substitue in a game, changing a selection between games that was clearly wrong, or altering the tactics in and between games. johnson hasn't demonstrated any of these.

    this weeks changes are too many and too late. we will learn nothing much from them as it is essentially a one off game for this team now. look at how we performed against ireland in the last match of 2008, or against france last year, and see what relevance that had. the much better approach would have been to make one or two changes at a time. foden should have come in after the first game (he should really have started the championship) when armitage was clearly out of sorts. then flood should probably have come in for wilko after italy to see if that lifted flutey to play like last year. if it didn't then flutey should have gone for this week. monye should also have been changed earlier as he hasn't looked like finishing anything off, let alone looking for support runners.

    england seem to win games and think everything is ok when it clearly isn't and then only make changes when they lose.

  • Comment number 35.

    In agreement with Pip, don't understand why Courtney Lawes has been released and Tom Palmer brought in as cover for Borthwick. I seem to remember the majority of pundits at the beginning of the tournament excited about a Shaw/Lawes partnership. Another chance gone begging.

  • Comment number 36.

    The stats tell the tale. I wonder about territory and possession percentages. These would give a better sense of who is 'controlling' the game and who is taking the chances when they come.Wells is right to say things aren't working. Healey's point is best made: there just doesn't seem to be a way forward with this set up: coaches, tactics, vision, players. England have stalled their engine and it looks like the engine needs replacing.

    Tindall and Shaw will always do the job for England but neither are spring chickens and both are now slightly off the pace. They may simply be left for dead on Saturday.

  • Comment number 37.

    If any of these coaches believe that England have progressed from a couple of years ago then they should resign straight away!!! When they took over, the team went backwards 50%, so any improvement is purely catching up to where they were.
    It is completely pointless comparing games from the previous 6 nations as all the teams are playing at different standards to before. France, for example, are light years ahead of where they were last year.
    Johnson missed his chance and showed extreme weakness in not being bold in his selections from the outset. If England had lost most of their games last season but had progressed and were playing attractive rugby, the crowds would have stuck by them. As it is, they've achieved nothing in 2 seasons. As I said before....if they believe differently they should resign!

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm sorry but is anyone else just bored of talking about this? Why, with the fact that we will not win the grand slam, dont we field some exciting talent to test them out, why Shaw in at 2nd row and Tindall in the backs, maybe loose Flutey too just to blood some younger talent? No, that would be far to daring. I'm not even disappointed anymore.

  • Comment number 39.

    I'm sure i'm not the only one, but is anyone else wondering WHY Martin Johnson was given the post of head coach with little or no experience of actual coaching? How do you think the England football team would fair if they won the world cup this year, With Steven Gerrard lifting the trophy, then he decided to retire and was handed the national managers role? I'm pretty sure we would start to struggle.

    I don't doubt Johnson's knowledge of the game, what i do doubt is his experience of coaching, at any level. It would of been much better for him to go into club rugby as a coach, learn the day in day out routine of being a head coach, and then try his hand as the national coach.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think both sides of the argument have good points. We could have won the games against Ireland and Scotland, and now we would be talking about 4 wins from 4, but we were still soooo bad against Italy it was thoroughly depressing and we've often looked totally devoid of imagination.
    I think the major problem is that there isn't enough new talent out there, we can't blood new exciting players if there isn't the quality about to give a go. I think it's generally agreed that our problem is at 10, 12 and 13 but who could come in that could make a big difference and is better than the players we have in the sqaud already? I genuinely don't know, so if anyone has any ideas I'd be interested to hear them.

  • Comment number 41.

    Good blog and comments and having watched Scotland v England last week as a neutral I can only agree. However it could be worse - you could support Wales :)

    Oh, and sacking managers just before a world cup is our prerogative thank you!

  • Comment number 42.

    I watched and winced as England struggled against their less numerous nation neighbours last weekend. Then I enjoyed the spectacle of a youthful, imaginitive, enterprising Saints team blow Sarries away. Every Saints player had the confidence to not only cross the gain line, but also to offload at speed. It occurred to me that this Saints side would beat the England team that played Scotland... why is that?
    I keep hearing that you have to earn the right to go wide and attack. I think that's nonsense - teams should attack whenever an opportunity arises! No matter which phase of play or field position. With such conservative rugby, I fear that England may never earn that right anyway!

  • Comment number 43.

    Agree with #39 as to why on earth Martin Johnson got the job in the first place with no prior coaching experience. Rob Andrew obviously sidestepped what is clearly a poisoned chalice so someone else could be the scapegoat and take the blame.
    AS to the 6N poerformance so far:
    Eng v Ita - lucky to get away with a win there
    Eng v Wal - If Wales had actually played in the first half they would have won comfortably.
    Eng v Ire - Eng buried the ball for most of the match, went for a wilkinson drop goal toward the end but were comprehesively outplayed by Ireland as the try count shows. Ireland had few chances but they took them all!
    Eng v Sco - That was a match Scotland clearly deserved to win not least for the fact that they tried to play rugby but were stymied by the worst refereeing performance I've seen in a long time. England should have seen yellow at least twice.
    Eng v Fra - Expect France to win by at least 20 points.

    I suspect a major problem is the level of play in the Guinness Premiership - regimented and lacklustre. Look at the Heineken cup quarter final lineup to see who are the quality teams in Europe - French and Irish. (who oddly enough are the 2 best teams in the 6N)
    So - get a new coach with some fresh ideas after next Saturdays thrashing or write off next years world cup.

  • Comment number 44.

    Please can we stop using the fact that we COULD have beaten Ireland and Scotland to suggest that there is something positive here. We just as easily COULD have lost to Wales, Italy and Scotland which would have left us with a 0-0-4 record. Its actually a bad thing to lose games that we could have won!

  • Comment number 45.

    38. Spacey surf
    My instinct is to agree with you. However, to be fair to johnson he is fielding some exciting young players. Cole, Youngs (bench), Foden and Ashton. He has put Tindall in as he is a decent player and a decent tackler. I don't think the selection is too bad - remember Shaw, Flutey and Armitage were the best players in the team last year!

  • Comment number 46.

    Slow ball, pointless pick-and-goes by underpowered, unfit-looking forwards and hopeless chip/grubber kicks that needlessly give away ball in promising positions are my biggest bugbears. The latter in particular - even when it's plain as day that a kick is the wrong option, it's almost as if the players can say "well I tried - that grubber kick proves my attacking intent" and then give up. Contact, offload, recycling - all too much like hard work it seems.

    Although one thing I will say is that we don't make nearly as many handling errors as we did the Ashton and especially the Robinson eras. So I suppose that's something.

    It's clear we don't have the same calibre of player that we did in the Woodward era, but we're still England - and that means that we still have gazillions of players to pick from. I refuse to believe that there aren't sufficient talented players to make us at least competitive at the top level. The problems are systemic and institutional. I just yearn for some ambition and adventure. Sure, it won't always work. Yes, sometimes we'll lose! But we're losing anyway. I'd rather we went down trying to play the game properly than battening down the hatches, which seems to be all we know how to do.

    I don't care how retrograde it would be (which is very) - if I could get Clive Woodward back tomorrow I would. We are currently going through a period of what will be looked back on as utterly pointless years in the history of English rugby in which nothing positive was done or even attempted, nothing won and no foundations laid for the future. How did we squander all the successes of the early 2000s? Stupidity, incompetence and complacency, that's how. The RFU (like so many of our be-blazered sporting institutions) does nothing but hold back our game.

  • Comment number 47.

    An interesting blog, if unsurprising. A lot's been said about it here, but I think I can sum it all up much more succinctly for you:


  • Comment number 48.

    Lewis Moody says: "Without playing our best rugby, we could be going into this weekend having won four out of four, and that says a lot of a team that's only really been playing at 70%. There's a lot more to come from this side."

    This begs the question: why have they only really been playing at 70%?

    And how many times have we heard that there is a lot more to come from this side? When? Next match? Next year? Next decade?

    I love England Rugby and I am a passionate supporter so I worry when I find myself hoping that France will thrash us on Saturday just to hopefully bring about a change of regime from Rob Andrew downwards.

  • Comment number 49.

    I think that some of the tactics to bring in Tindall to stop the big French Centre whose name I can't spell is a positive move but I do feel very sorry for Matt Tait. Fluety was being tipped as England captain before the six nations and a massive loss but from what I've seen he's made zero difference and indeed if you look at the line breaks that have come from Englands opponents then many have come through his channel.

    Upfront I'm actually quite encouraged by the front rows performance with Dan Cole and David Wilson looking solid and mobile. Dylan Hartley is starting to understand the art of running straight and has generally done is set play work well.

    The second rows and back row are a major concern. We are greatly missing Tom Crofts pace and someone else to give us so go forward ball. The Pack seem to be set up to disrupt the opposition rather than make significant in roads. Where on earth has James Haskell been in the last two internationals!!! He is built like a mountain but runs sideways, is hardly ever available as a ball carrier and I don't remember any really big game changing hits. Worsley is there to do a job and you know what you get but there are Worsley types in every team. You need someone to do the dirty work, but do we also need Deacon, Borthwick, Easter et al as well? For goodness sake with the championship gone you need to know if the likes of Courtney Lawes can deliver against the best sides, so I don;t understand his ommision from the squad.

    Wilkinson has been relieved of his duties but against the French you need to be able to defend your lines and nobody can fault his work rate in this department. Personally I would have brought flood in but at inside centre and maybe left Tait in, if we are serious about running the ball. Yes I know this sort of contradicts what I said earlier.

    Really pleased that Foden has got his chance. Armitage needs to have a long look at himself. Not once can I recall him keeping the ball in hand.Cueto has been consistently our best back and at is a calm head so pleased that the likes of Bannahan haven't been recalled who offered very little.

    I hope we keep it simple, attack the 10, 12 channels with fast inside ball and straight lines. I hope the back row get out of neutral and start taking the ball slightly wider.

    On a final note can the powers that be please, please, please sort out the scrummaging.

    All sport is in the entertainment business and watching the constant resetting of scrums is killing the game as a spectacle.

  • Comment number 50.

    I know this sounds ridiculous but maybe England are learning how not to do it, to learn how to do it??

    Good Points.
    ~Blooding all these new front rowers is never a bad thing.
    ~Finally Foden has been given a show!!

    Bad Points.
    ~The backs haven't been flat enough.
    ~Wilkinson sadly has not been bossing the backs.

    Players We Need Back.
    ~Sheridan (Payne is crap, Cole & Sheridan nice combo!!)
    ~Vickery (if hes even coming back)
    ~White (if hes even coming back)
    ~Rees (future Captain)
    ~Croft (was just tired after the Lions, look at Saffers)
    ~Strettle (give him a proper run, has never had one)

    Players Out.

    England Team Needed.

    22.Chris Ashton

  • Comment number 51.

    gwilymbach - very fair comparison with Kidney and his experience.

    AmblesideFox - I feel your pain. I think everyone does...

    riley_ives - another World Ubogus would certainly be nice. Slightly worried about putting my title on the line (badly out of training) but if The Big Vee's up for it again, why not?

    Deep-heat - stats all my own work, which is remarkable if you knew my track record at maths....

    mjh169183 - good point re Sheridan and Vickery.

    Any England fans at all think a win over France is a possibility?

  • Comment number 52.

    England are suffering from a 7 year hangover from the world cup win in '03. Since then, every top flight nation have adapted their game and developed their team to compete....except England.

    We have a wealth of talented young players who could step into any international side, and are picked regularly for their skill, pace and cutting runs in their respective domestic leagues; but the English game plan seems to over-ride their natural(and successful)abilities, and the moment we get possession of the ball it goes up in the air and 99% of the time straight to the opposition.

    Out with the old penalty conceding forwards that think that the ref's won't blow up, and out with the manager that has ZERO managing experience.

    Do you think that Man United will put Giggs in charge when Ferguson leaves? No, they'll get someone like mourhinio.....SO WHY WONT WE!!!

  • Comment number 53.

    Ok in light of the above, i agree with both sides, england do have an abundance of talent to pick from, and the relatively inexperienced front row has competed well against some incredibly expereinced and destructive front rows so my hats go off to them. England are creating chances, and for the most part their defence is good, which is reassuring, and in every game you can pick out at least 4 or 5 occasions where if the right decision had been made england could have scored, so offensively opportunities are there, we just arent clinical in taking them. All that said, our counter rucking is poor at times as is general rucking and clearing out to give the scrum half quick ball. Wilko for my part has been left exposed and left to carry the can a lot, Care (as well as he has performed) tends to do his little two step before giving the ball, giving opposition time to come up in defence, leaving wilko less time with the ball, and certainly not enough in most instances to run it himself, that coupled by the lack of support by the short side winger and inside centre means he is left with very few options to offload the ball, often being forced into giving long or wild passes because the winger is coming up on one shoulder and the centre is stood far too deep and not coming up to hit a flat ball through the gap, when wilko went off on saturday, flood did ok, but to me it highlighted Flutey as the issue not wilko as again he was stood far too deep. This has been consistent throughout the championship apart from the one game where he didnt play and england actually looked very positive and clinical, the wales game, flood was up with wilkinson a lot offering him options and they combined well and the whole back line hit some sort of rythym (albeit not what we expect) which we have since failed to get close too. Armitage came in and was a revelation as a runner from fullback but hasnt done that this season so has been considered poor and rightly so, we need a running fullback as lewsey and robinson did in the past and as Foden did tremendously well. I think a lot of the issues are mainly to do with a team gelling as a team, chopping and changing doesnt allow you to do that, you need consistency, i take you back to the 99 through to 03, consistently the same side put out pretty much every game, Johnno is trying to do that. But we should be seeing more results by now that is agreed and that for me is because some players arent stepping up as they did, namely flutey and armitage. Ashton and foden are reassuring but i would like to see strettle given another shot. when he first came onto the scene for england he looked very exciting, until injurires and then the media whirlwind from downunder.
    Bottom line these players need to gel, there are positives but certain players need to address their own form and negatives, wilko has paid the price for a care two step and flutey standing too deep, i reckon we will see flood having a similar problem, unless Riki realises he needs to be up giving options to his 10 when they receive ball. Dont get me wrong, its time for a change at 10, wilko is vastly experienced and should be marshalling his backs into giving him options that he is lacking so he does carry some blame. Personally I think we miss Ellis at SH, care hs potential but he needs to learn to cut out the two step. Secondly the forwards have to clear out to allow him good quick ball. Inside centre and full back need to pick up their game. one has been changed but for me not the most crucial one. i thnk flood will have problems because of it. But he's good so may adapt or cope.

  • Comment number 54.

    I find it odd that Lewis Moody talked about things like 'optimism' and 'positivity' when against Scotland the pervading atmosphere appeared to be a fear of failure. I really wonder how many players *enjoy* playing for England, or is the attitude now simply "thank goodness we didn't lose"?

  • Comment number 55.

    And what about Rob Andrew in all of this? We should be blaming him, not Johnson. After all he is the 'Director of Elite Rugby' in England...

  • Comment number 56.

    I can sum up how I feel about English rugby at present with a bit of personal reflection.
    I was born in England, played rugby in England, and for as long as I can remember watching rugby on TV I have supported England. I have taken long trips to Twickenham and Murrayfield to follow our National side, joined the Supporter's Club, bought England merchandise for myself and my children, and have always tried to focus on the positive and stick with the team through good times and bad.
    However, my parents are Scottish and my paternal Grandmother was Irish. This gives me 'legitimate' reasons to switch my allegiance, and having sat at Murrayfield last Saturday and watched the latest clueless performance against a Scotland side who were at least prepared to give it a go, I am seriously thinking about it. Not that they would care, but England are close to losing a 'loyal customer' if things don't change.

  • Comment number 57.

    Good to see Foden & Ashton in but this should have been done 1, if not 2 games ago.

    My big worry is that France turn England over, our exciting back 3 have little or no opportunities to show what they can do with ball in hand and are then are harshly judged 'not good enough' on the strength of one game.

  • Comment number 58.

    I think the problems for England revolve around the back row and the game they are being asked to play. Ok, the backs don't run anywhere near as hard as southern hemisphere provincial teams but we don't have the back row to play a fluid attacking game.

    England is one of the few rugby playing nations that doesn't see openside flanker as a specialist role. Ever since we lost the Hill-Dalaglio-Back combination we have looked completely unbalanced. We often look like we are playing 3 blindside flankers, or worst still two flankers and a lineout jumper.

    Imagine NZ without McCaw (or the unlucky Marty Holah), Kronfeld or Michael Jones, Australia with George Smith or now David Pocock and SA with Burger and Broussow. Closer to home since 2003 we have seen David Wallace and Martyn Williams in the time when England has not consistently picked a recognised openside flanker for any period of games.

    Non of our back row players have the mobility and dynacism to compete on the floor for possession - which means 2-3 of our backs go in and do the job badly. Remember Flood being rucked back onto our side into Care to cost us possession against Scotland?

    Either back Rees or nurture a long term number seven solution now, the only way possible, but throwing them in the deep end.

  • Comment number 59.

    It is obvious to all who follow rugby that England have completely stalled in terms of progress under both Robinson and Johnson. This team play a game that appears devoid of any particular plan or direction. It is unclear which particular areas of the game Johnson and his coaching team are focusing on and how they intend to channel the best talents in our squad to achieve any progress.

    I see general apathy and disorganization in our forward play that tends to muddle through and get by, defensive frailties and missed tackles against organized attacking opposition (particularly in the three quarters) and a absolute and complete lack of any meaningful attack strategy for the backs. They appear shackled and without any given attacking options as a group. The only tactic which seems to be a common coaching objective appears to be to kick the ball back to the opposition at any given opportunity.

    We are, in my opinion without any credible leader on the field. Borthwick has none of the leadership qualities that the squad desperately needs to affect changes on the field. Johnson was a past master in this role as England captain and I am shocked he cannot see what how important it is that this criteria is met with some urgency.

    It was with a heavy heart that I watched Englands inadequacies against Scotland last weekend. Viewing the game straight after such an expansive and exciting encounter of the Wales and Ireland match, it was a stark and obvious just how far behind the rugby elite England now appear to be. In answer to the article above, watching aimless kick after aimless kick again and again pretty much sums up the progress England have made.

  • Comment number 60.

    It feels like years to me that the same comments, arguments, theoretical team selection, player criticism, management criticsm and overall opinion that England are not now and have not been playing dynamic rugby with continuity for years. Who is to blame? Is it worth blaming anyone? Does the buck stop with players, who perform exceptionally well at club level, then become blinkered in an international jersey? Is it the coach/ manager for being inexperienced and narrow minded, is it the specialist coaches who dont have the credentials to guide and develop the playing style. Is it the media? Is it the fans for expecting too much?
    I look back to my days as a school boy rugby player and can recall two things. The year above me had a crop of exceptional talent and won pretty much every game. My year had some excellent players and did not win as many games. But the coaches stayed the same, the style stayed the same. The results changed because the players weren't as good. The year below me were woeful, but the coaching staff didnt change. From this you can only sumise that each generation of players differs and sometimes you have to wait for the next crop of players that excell. Currently we have a generation of players that just aren't good enough when it matters. So expectation remains high, but delivery is poor. Next 10 years this might change!!
    The RFU have a duty to manage the English game set up, employ the best, like any other organisation and give a level of service that we the fans pay for. After this 6 Nations, the only way forward is to relieve the specialist coaches from their duties, retain MJ as Manager and run with him to the World Cup. Select some more appropriate coaches with a semblance of modern rugby thinking.
    Too much change will not benefit the stability. Dave Alred should return in some capacity as kicking specialst, as this has been so weak for England (why did we ever get rid of him in the first place!!)
    Maybe with some fresh coaching ideas we may have a chance to develop a way forward that will atleast make us competitive at the next world cup.

  • Comment number 61.

    My predictions:

    France 34 England 15

    so what happens then?? Johnson has managed to guide his team to a good win over a 14 man welsh team....scrap a win by 3 points against Italy and draw with scotland who have yet to win a match.

    This has to be the worst english 6 nations in years and yet the board of rugby will say...we have seen improvement and MJ needs more time...and come world cup next year...england will flop and johnson will be fired and people will say...we should have got rid of him years ago.

    done and done

  • Comment number 62.

    I don’t entirely qualify to answer Mr F’s question, not being an England supporter- but, yes, I can imagine circumstances in which England could win on Saturday. They might need a bit of help from the ref and the opposition, though!

    For one thing, England always seem to produce one 6N performance when everything clicks and they slaughter good opposition (France 2007, Ireland 2008, France 2009 etc). A new renaissance for English rugby is hailed in media and on these boards- and somehow fizzles out.

    For another, this French side does go through periods in games when they appear to switch off. Admittedly this has happened when they’ve been well in front but it’s a slight weakness. Also they’ve never really been behind in any of their matches so far; how well would they go if they had to chase the game?

    So here goes…. Game kicks off in a heavy rain shower. England get a decent share of possession in the first ten minutes and France cough up a couple of penalties for offside in the ruck. France have a longish spell of possession but can’t find a way through and end up setting for three points. The crowd starts muttering a bit. It becomes increasingly clear that France are completely at odds with the ref over interpretation of the breakdown and keep getting penalised. England nudge a bit further ahead from goal kicks. The crowd gets increasingly restive as the score goes to 12-3. France start trying to spread possession but it’s also clear that Bastareaud in particular is having an off day; after he spills a pass for the third time, Tindall hacks the ball up the field. A desperate scramble sees the ball go out ten metres from the French line. England throw to the lineout, catch and drive- try for Cole. England collect the restart and keep things tight until half time. France 3 England 19. France are booed off the park.

    The second half sees a furious French onslaught but only pick up a penalty. Attacks repeatedly founder either on handling errors due to over-ambitious passing or with the referee’s whistle for yet another infringement at the breakdown. The crowd is now in a frenzy of frustration, booing every move that goes wrong. England don’t get much useable possession but don’t look in real danger of conceding a try either. The turning point comes on the hour mark when a long floated pass to Andreu is picked off by Flutey; although he is hauled down short of the line, France concede another penalty and Harinordoquoy is carded for a blatant professional foul. England scrum it and collect a penalty try after a couple of collapses. From now on it’s easy for England who run in a couple more tries from Ashton and Haskell; France manage a consolation try from Marty at the death. Final score France 13 England 38.

    Depending on who’s scripting the rest of this fantasy, Ireland then win the championship thanks to a 44-10 win over Scotland or England finish runners up that’s to Scotland’s upset 21- 17 win in Dublin…….

    So it could happen- though I don’t actually think it will. And where a win under those circumstances would leave England is anybody’s guess- probably with claims that the outcome vindicates all that’s gone before.

  • Comment number 63.

    Yeah Forthview... I would really like to see that scenario happen... but it won't happen.

    The big reason is because - purely because a mediocre defence (England's) will never work against a great attack (like France).

    The only area which England REALLY excel at is the Turnover, and being gifted sudden possession, via things like Interceptions.
    Look back to France 2009 (34-10 and 5 tries - the equivalent of this championship). We scored so many tries due to this. And Wales this year - look at the last try, scored after the Interception.

    One big problem. We never seem to be gifted possession - and we won't against France.

    Sorry. I predict a 31-19 loss

  • Comment number 64.

    I don't get any feelings of optimism I'm afraid. But for some incidents of good fortune England could easily be 0 from 4 (yes England could have won against Ireland but my house wasn't going anywhere on that one! Scotland, Italy and Wales were definitely frustrated with missed opportunities).

    The key being lack of dynamism from the forwards and peculiar set-up from the backs. The most frustrating thing is constant defensive selection - Tindall and Worsley spring to mind. Where is the plan to outscore the rest rather than restrict to less than 3 x infringements in oppos half??

  • Comment number 65.

    Cant believe England scored that many tries in the 2009 campaign... Looking at the england teams from 2009 to 2010 there arent that many changes. So what is the difference word dynamism - like the lights on yer bike, they dont light up unless the wheel goes round - well englands wheel isnt even out of the bike rack at the moment ...
    2009 to 2010...
    The front row - no Sheridan or Vickery - could argue that Vickery was nearing the end of a great career anyway, esp after the mauling by the beast on the lions Tour - but their obvious brawn at clearing out early at the breakdown is one possibility for the slow ball now...
    The back row - no Tom Croft - but his dynamism is not at the breakdown anyway - Easter had a good game against Wales, but apart from that, ponderous..also, carries the ball into contact too upright, and although he doesnt get turned, it slows the ball right down...
    Haskell - one word - disappointing - no go forward, no smashing opposition out of the contact zone... looks every inch Dayglo elect in physique and athleticism but has not delivered anything yet...
    Scrum Half - Care just doesnt call the shots - in 2009 Ellis was your natural gobby scrum half...
    Fly half ... in 2009 Wilko was injured and Flood was the playmaker...and did a good job...and is getting better at Leicester...
    Flutey - this is prob where it all goes wrong, in 2009 right on the money, 2010 at least 15 yards away from the fly half - and deep - and was also, schoolboyesque standing still on two occasions when Wilko had the ball early against Scotland when england were supposed to be attacking - simply dont know what is going on - think Flutey is a genuine class act but something is not firing....
    2009 & 2010 Tindall - rather have Tindall defend in France, would rather have Tait attack, Tait still drops off the tackle too easily and the French centres are too good to give an inch... Tindall will give crash ball go forward, and could open some space for Ashton and Cueto if, if if if - england get some quick ball...
    So how to get the mo jo back...players and coaches - all have that responsibility...but on the pitch - Borthwick, Moody, Easter, Shaw, Flutey you all need to put your hands up...

    But unless 9, 10 and 12 get it together, and until the forwards clear out more like dynarod then its not going to happen....

  • Comment number 66.

    At least for once on one of these threads, no one is going on and on about how England need to bring in a Southern hemisphere coach to sort out our back play.

    I have had to point out on numerous occassions that we already have an Aussie called Brian Smith coaching the backs, but time after time people still want to talk rubbish without actually bothering to back up their comments.

  • Comment number 67.

    I would love !!! to believe England are getting better but that just isn't true just watching them tells you that. It's a shame, Martin Johnson was an outstanding player but his strengths then are his weaknesses now. He seems unable to accept that rigidity is destroying English rugby he puts his head down and just batters his way on, great for a player not so good for a manager. England are just too slow in every department,distribution,support and most tellingly of all in thought. The forwards do just seem to dive on the floor at every opportunity and they seem to be knackered by 60 minutes. Players who make a break find themselves on thier own and end up holding on when tackled giving away stupid penalties. Support is so slow to arrive for the player with the ball it is no suprise no one wants to run very far with it. If you look at the Southern hemisphere teams they have a mobile strong players in the back row who get to the breakdown fast they stay on thier feet step over the ball and the ball is gone! They rarely let it descend into a wrestling match the clear out is excellent and the ball moves as fast as possible the backs take the ball at speed and break the line while the opposition are still getting off the floor. They run good lines and try to create a mismatch sucking in cover players, when they are tackled they pass out of it creating space and breaking holes for others to run through. Simple sharp accurate passing no 20 yard missed passes so very few errors and they just do that the entire match and it just wears teams like England out they spend so much time chasing the ball. Is there a reason we can't do that or learn to that surely it's just basic rugby played with speed and imagination maybe that's the problem imagination ! sorry Martin time for you to go

  • Comment number 68.

    I see no reason to be negative about the current England situation.

    They are utterly crap, and I'm loving it.

    Martin Johnson, take a bow. :D

  • Comment number 69.

    Statistics followed by statistics followed by statistics,from some at least.

    Napoleon (some French dictator) said that the English are "a nation of shopkeepers". To my mind he had it wrong: we are a nation of clerks. Thank God neither clerks nor shopkeepers were manning the ships at Trafalgar.

    Statistics can only show the past. The statisticians of 1939 forecast the invasion and defeat of Britain in 1940 but, somehow, spirit, resilience and ADAPTATION managed to prove him wrong.

    Rugby matters far less than these events but there may be a tentative parallel to be drawn. Are we to be led by statisticians? Above all, learn from what has gone before and, should it have proved the wrong path, change it, and change it quick. Old leaders fight in old ways; they lack nothing in bravery or commitment but may have failed to move on with more advanced techniques as practised by others.

    To my feeble mind the only northern hemisphere country that seems to have advanced and learned how to adapt to today's (sometimes ridiculous laws) has been the side that will beat England on Saturday and, deservedly, win the Grand Slam.

    France is the only side that can compete with southern hemisphere teams in the forthcoming world cup. Could that be because they have managed to tighten up their front 5 play in order to give (to my mind, the best 8 in the world) Harinordoquy the room to do as he so often does? Yes, and no. To my mind they could be rocked somewhat in the line-out and that is the set-piece on which we should put some serious, full-time, in their faces, pressure. I await scrum-time with anxiety!

    It's the old thing against the French; "Don't let them have the ball!"

    Why can't we instill the same terror into them with our, supposedly, magnificent back line.

    Oh well>

  • Comment number 70.

    Improvement according to the dictionary = "a change for the better; progress in development"
    How can MJ say that there is improvement? In what way are the current England side moving forward? The Scotland game last weekend was awful, failing to secure rucks, lack of turnovers, hartley's poor lineouts, the back line so deep on attacking ball, the three-quarters struggling to break the gain line, theres little creativity or invention, need I go on?
    Watching the the Scotland game someone turned around to me and said that he was ashamed to be English after watching that!
    On the plus, at least MJ has woken up and smelt the coffee and realised that the premiership contains some in form players, such as Foden (immense in his sub appearances so far!), Ashton(the most on form player in the premiership at the moment!)
    France are there for the taking as long as we play on the front foot, lets get foden/ashton/tindall etc running the ball back at them. Enough of the kicking already! There is a time and a place for it but not every other second!
    I really want us to beat France this weekend, however as long as they play/look better than they did last weekend I will be happy(er!)

  • Comment number 71.

    Having played rugby at a high level what i have seen throughout the six nations has left me numb.The displays have been nothing short of amateur with every player lacking in power, pace and passion worthy of a precious England shirt. The problem is mainly in the forwards who are unable to up the pace of the game and securing quick ball which makes it possible to rush the oppositions backs forcing them to make mistakes at the breakdown and mistakes in the tackle area giving players like flutey time and space to create try scoring opportunities. Tim payne for example offers nothing in the loose making no impact as a ball carrier why he is in the squad i have no idea he was'nt even good enough at his peak especially with players like jon golding flatman and mullen about. As for second row Borthwick also offers little outsie of the lineout he is not any good at carrying the ball misses tackles ad fails to inspire his team i would'nt even have him on the bench why is'nt Schofield, Kennedy short or lawes playing they would offer strong ball carries and powere and streetwise at the breakdown my team would be:-

    1-Sheridan (if fit) or Golding
    8-Dowsan future captain
    13-Tindall captain would tell flutey to move up something seriously laccking
    14-Ashton runs on team-mates shoulders brilliantly looing for the offlaod in space
    15- Foden

    any thoughts?

  • Comment number 72.

    Says it all, really. You go out of your way to make the best possible case for an improving England and come up with a resounding 'maybe, but only if you beat the statistics to within an inch of their life'.

    As for the team changes for Paris - too little, too late. Tindall is hardly a progressive move unless there is a realistic chance of him being at the World Cup, MJ probably hoping Basteraud will trip up over Mike's Zimmer frame. Flood is hardly inexpoerienced, and deserves his start, although the best fly half is off to Australia and may come back wearing the green and gold at the next world cup. Ashton - good move, but only came about because Monye finally found out what a brick wall really feels like. Foden, high time. Moody? Not sure really, but anything is better than Haskell in his current form, except possibly Borthwick, who for some unknown reason is still there. And Why is Care still the number one choice? My granny could pass the ball quicker.

  • Comment number 73.

    Did england ever have any real passion in their game.....I like so many other followers have watched England plod through 80 minutes with seemingly little or no spark or adventure in their game. Ireland and Wales have demonstrated team spirit and a real unity in effort to win and or close out games. France are current favourites as they are putting together cohesive gameplans with individual and team excellence.

    Who thinks Sean Edwards is the right man for the England head coaching position. He has the passion, vision and experience at all levels to spark the english monster to life.


  • Comment number 74.

    Keeping optimistic...

    I do see MJ's longer term view - ignore the press and focus on getting a workable core squad together that get to know each other. One problem in previous years was AR's and BA's tendency to chop and change their selection from one week to the next, resulting in general confusion on the pitch.

    Right now the players appear unable to produce any attacking play. Note though, that strategy often plays a role in winning the big games. i.e. you don't play your best hands against weaker sides - as it give the real opposition time to learn how to neutralise your best efforts. Let's hope MJ et al have been holding back something big for tomorrow.

    Less optimistic ...

    To repeat SCW old adage "we've got the players ..."

    His belief was then that the problem was the system, not the players or the coaches. Now with the system fixed, it is clear that the problem does lie with the players or the coaches.

    Personally I believe we have the players, but not the coaches.

  • Comment number 75.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 76.

    My observation of England is that no one in their team seems to be enjoying their rugby at the moment. None of the players and particularly the coach come across positively in interviews - the exception being Ben Foden after the French game. Johnson in particular sounds like a weary politician who fails completely to engage with his audience.

  • Comment number 77.

    Engladn will get back to theri best over the next few years. With players like Nick Easter and Dan Cole working their way into the team, we will always have a chance.

    Can't believe the BBC lost radio rights to the Rugby WC, but hopin they have TV highlights?


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