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Has Johnson made the right choices?

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Bryn Palmer | 19:58 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

Martin Johnson presaged all explanations about his choice of personnel for the World Cup with this rider: “You can’t cover all eventualities with 30. Any solution leaves you slightly thin somewhere.”

Too true. But while every coach announcing a squad for the global gathering in New Zealand was forced into a compromise or two, many England fans will be left wondering if their manager has made the right ones.

In terms of a World Cup, what is more important? An extra prop in case of injuries? An extra lock to ease the workload? Specialist back-up at fly-half? Or variety and balance in midfield?

Johnson wrestled with these questions and more in finalising the composition of his squad and decided the first two outweigh the latter two.



England manager Martin Johnson faced selection dilemmas when finalising the composition of his squad. PHOTO: GETTY

As he said himself, if he gets one or two injuries in the front-row department, he looks like a genius. If Shontayne Hape does himself a mischief, then his inside centre options are, well, interesting.

The fitness and form of certain players appears to have forced Johnson’s hand in certain areas and given the squad an imbalanced look elsewhere.

To my mind England look light in the key playmaking roles of 10 and 12. While Riki Flutey’s omission is no great surprise on form, given his struggle to recapture the highs of 2009, it nevertheless raised eyebrows on two counts.

Firstly, the fact Johnson is only taking two fly-halves. If either Jonny Wilkinson or Toby Flood pick up an injury in the run-up to a game (Wilkinson, you may remember, did so in the week before England’s opening match against USA in 2007, swiftly followed by Olly Barkley, leaving Mike Catt and Andy Farrell to juggle the controls for the hammering which ensued against South Africa), then England will have no specialist, and only Delon Armitage as goalkicking cover, on the bench.

Flutey, who has played at 10 for Wasps on occasion, was considered able to provide that option in an emergency. That role now falls to scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, who played there a handful of times for Sale, and can also do a bit of kicking.

“We can cover 10 a bit easier than nine,” Johnson said in explaining his choice of three scrum-halves. In other words, Wigglesworth is considered a better bet in a crisis at 10 than Ben Foden at nine.

Secondly, unless Johnson is seriously pondering the merits of pairing Wilkinson and Flood together in midfield – and the lack of a third fly-half would suggest not - then Shontayne Hape has apparently nailed down the number 12 position.

That will be a surprise to those who watched his fumbling efforts against Wales in Cardiff, but Johnson continues to defend his man against the criticism hurled in his direction.

“We think Shontayne has been playing to a high level for us over the last year,” the manager said.

“He is very strong, a smart footballer, he can offload…I think he is an under-rated player. Because he doesn’t do things that make people go ‘wow’, he gives other people the opportunity to do things because of the way our team works.”

That last line may provide an additional clue. In citing Mike Tindall and Matt Banahan, as well as Wilkinson and Flood, as additional options at 12 in the absence of a ball-player like Flutey, Johnson’s preference for muscular, bash-and-crash centres capable of getting over the gain line, rather than those with more refined methods of breaching opposition defences, is abundantly clear.

This impression was highlighted when Manu Tuilagi, the baby of the squad at 20 but a beast of a man, was asked to articulate the strengths he will bring to the party.

“I just run hard at defenders and try to break them down. It is simple really,” said the Anglo-Samoan. As a mission statement for a wannabe England centre, it seemed rather apt.

But it highlights the reality that England are not going to win this World Cup playing the all-singing, all-dancing brand of rugby that bedazzled Australia at Twickenham last autumn.

“Believe me, when you get into quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals, you would rather win ugly than lose pretty every day of the week,” Johnson said. “That is what World Cups are all about.”

It’s hard to argue with that logic, coming from the man who led England to glory in 2003.

Hence, Johnson has opted for extra man-power in areas of England strength, namely the front five, the scrum and the line-out.

While five props might be considered a luxury (at least not one England enjoyed at the last two World Cups), the fact that Andrew Sheridan is still on the way back from shoulder surgery appears to have dictated the need for extra cover in the shape of David Wilson.

“If you only take four props and one is injured, you are only another injury away from being in deep trouble,” noted the manager, mindful too that England’s first two opponents, Argentina and Georgia, have a particular relish for scrummaging.

Johnson’s penchant for a fourth specialist lock, in contrast to Clive Woodward in 1999 and 2003 and Brian Ashton in 2007, who both counted on the versatile Martin Corry, is less easy to fathom.

Having featured in all 18 games (and started 17 of them) England played across the 1995, 1999 and 2003 World Cups, Johnson is uniquely placed to appreciate the burden a potential schedule of seven Tests in seven weekends - should England reach the final - places on front-five forwards in particular.

He had the option of utilizing Tom Croft – his likely starter as blind-side flanker - as an extra lock, but instead deprived himself of an additional back-row option.

That places an extra onus on the swift return to fitness of captain Lewis Moody, on whom Johnson is counting to recover in time for the opening match against Argentina.

Along with Sheridan and Ben Youngs, it seems increasingly likely that three of Johnson’s preferred line-up against the Pumas will have played next to no rugby in the build-up.

“In an ideal world everyone would be fit, healthy and have had some game-time, but that is not the world we live in,” he added.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Well the midfield options should have the Tri Nation teams shaking in their boots.....

    Crash and ruck crash and ruck and repeat until getting turndover

  • Comment number 2.

    A bit underwhelming.

    Johnson has worked hard to squeeze all of the vibrancy out of the side since the Australia win & it seemed mission accomplished in Cardiff.

    We will get through the group & possibly to the semi, where we will bow out in a welter of boring, grinding rugby.

  • Comment number 3.

    Banahan? Would not be in my squad as very average.

  • Comment number 4.

    Here comes the most boring team in the WC...I agree England will probably get to the semi because of the easy route they have but its gonna be painful to watch!

  • Comment number 5.

    Come on, this WC is about not getting hammered and building for 2015. Hape shouldnt be there and maybe wont be after 60mins if we are losing. But otherwise this is a squad about power and no humiliation. Gotta have the ball to win it anyway and as we dont have the centres to score we might as well hope one of the back 3 can get on the score sheet.

  • Comment number 6.

    Not the squad I would have picked - Given Sheridan and Youngs recent injuries I can understand the need for extra cover in those areas. Lawes gives another back row option so I'm not even to disappointed at only 5 back row players being selected.

    But my oh my the midfield - we need to at least have the option of some creativity at 12 so to only take 3 centres who all give the same physical option is a joke.

    That being said I'll support these boy's to the death now - Bring it on!

  • Comment number 7.

    The squad was about as predictable as England's back play

    Disappointing that with 3 centres who offer crash ball and nothing else, Johnno felt the need to include Banahan - presumaably in case England needed another option to run crash balls in the centres. Would have been better to include an out and out flyer (Monye, Strettle or Sharples) amongst the wings. As the Welsh game proved, without Ashton there is a lack of speed in the backline. The squad also has 2 specialist 13s, two other players who can cover 13 (Armitage and Banahan), and only 1 inside centre (unless you count Wilkinson or Flood).
    Hape may have been disappointing against Wales, but we are only 1 injury away from the sight of Tindall in the 12 shirt, and I doubt any England fan wants to see that.

    In the forwards, Deacon is way out of his depth at test level and offers absolutely nothing. Would have been better to let Croft cover the 2nd row, and take another specialist back row forward - particularly with Moody carrying an injury and with very little form.

  • Comment number 8.

    I haven't been a huge fan of Danny Care as England's 1st choice no.9 but given Ben Youngs has yet to prove his fitness and given that scrum half needs to be the fittest man of the field it is a bit worrying how threadbare England are in this position now. Wigglesworth is steady but nothing more.

    It also really worrying that he is being seen as th potential fly-half cover if either Wilko or Flood get injured. Johnno obviously hasn't rated Hodgkins or Flutey at all but 10 and 12 look really thin! I think, presuming Flood has lost his starting place at 10 now, he would actually do a better job as 12 cover than anyone else. Yes he isn't a crash ball merchant but he does have something called a 'step'!

    I can see Johnno's logic for taking a spare prop but not 4 locks - given Croft and Wood could have done a job there...

    I did have some confidence that England could do well in this world cup but there are a lot of worrying question marks. The squad looked to have strength in numbers but looking at it now - our best prop is not fit, our 2 best scrum halves are either injured or not tournament fit and we are relying on Wilko and Flood to both stay fit for over 2 months to save face....

  • Comment number 9.

    #1 wrote
    "Well the midfield options should have the Tri Nation teams shaking in their boots.....
    Crash and ruck crash and ruck and repeat until getting turndover"

    For that to be the case we need to learn how to ruck. Our back row lost the breakdown against Scotland, got mullered by the Irish back row, and struggled in the warm up games

    #5 Boils - the last world cup was supposed to be about damage limitation and building for 2011, and yet we came close to winning it.

  • Comment number 10.

    Every squad will have its weaknesses behind their starting XV. If NZ lose Carter they will really struggle. I think Johnson has gone for the best possible options with what was available to him and if England play well they will take stand a chance against anyone........against a full strength NZ of course.

  • Comment number 11.

    Well no surprises in Jonno's selection - pretty much as most people have suggested in other blogs...

    The next month or so will see if if he's played a blinder with his selection of 5 props, 4 locks and 3 battering ram centers - only one of which (Tuilagi) has any kind of creativity and can genuinly put someone away - can do it...

    The starting 15 should be:
    Moody (Wood if moody not fit)
    Easter (Still think its a massive mistake not taking Waldrom)
    Youngs (Simpson if Youngs not fit)

    If he and the squad selected pull it off then fair play to him!!!

    However just a couple to start the debate ball rolling -
    1) What is an acceptable finish for England in this World Cup?
    2) If England do go out in the QF's - is that enough to ask Johnson, Wells and Smith to leave before they cause any more damage???

  • Comment number 12.

    He's the expert - he won a world cup (with some assistance from the rest of the team/squad) so what do I know?

    But the midfield looks woeful. Centres? What do they do? Wilkinson doesn't get injured, does he?

    England have an easy route through to the semis, but this squad will never win the cup. Yes, strength is very important but so is creativity.

    Ah well, a new manager by November. Who should it be?

  • Comment number 13.

    The die is cast. Johnson has bet his managerial reputation on Hape. Should Hape look as out of his depth as he did against Wales, and frequently playing for Bath, then Johnson's swift post world cup retirement will not be as glorious as when he hung his playing boots up. Woodward back for next time?

  • Comment number 14.

    Hape shouldn't be anywhere near the world cup squad! He is not a test standard back and I can't remember him ever playing really well for England. The real danger is if he is paired with Tindall in the centres and Banahan makes it on the pitch. He is awful! Couldn't convert a one on one with Shane Williams less than 10 yards out! Woeful!

  • Comment number 15.

    Let's be honest, it's a pretty simple pick. There are number of 'could have beens', but they just haven't been performing lately or haven't had enough game time (Flutey, Monye, Strettle). If you think of England's first XV, that side can pose problems for any team including the ABs. As they showed in the 2nd half of the game in the Autumn.

    MJ has picked the players who have performed for him... and the ones who have suffered the hard defeats. I reckon you will see a number of English players turn into test match animals over the next couple of months. By the end I reckon there will be 4 or 5 players who would make a world XV (Youngs, Lawes, Foden, Ashton, Croft, if I were to guess).

  • Comment number 16.

    No. 14
    Think you're being a little harsh on Mr Hape. He is strong in defence and has some ability going forward....dont see anyone doing any better.....who else could Johnson have gone for? Agree Banahan is poor but give him time he was once a lock!!
    I think our challenge (as with all teams ) depends on gaining quick ball regularly and minimising turnovers.....not convinced we are good enough to compete in this area .......something yet to be proven...must allow that they may just improve??....Ireland game will be interesting indicator of progress.

  • Comment number 17.

    No 13 couldn't agre with you more.....should never have let Sir Clive go!

  • Comment number 18.

    #9 Dr John wrote - "the last world cup was supposed to be about damage limitation and building for 2011, and yet we came close to winning it."

    Came close? Are you having a larf? England made the final (in part because France had played their final against the choking AB's the previous week), but never looked remotely close to winning it.

    Having said that, as a Kiwi, I think Johnson is sensible to play to England's strengths, which is 10-man rugby. Boring but bloody effective. Why try and play someone else's game?

  • Comment number 19.

    @ No 16.....Banahan was a Lock when he played at school level, like 16 or something. He has played all his professional rugby as a wing, and is failing to perform, he has had enough chances to prove himself. What of Monye? Maybe he just didnt cut it in training.

    Johnson had decided on a smash and crash style of centre play along time ago. Shame Barritt and Allen were never even considered. But that is old news. (Also the exile of Barkley, which is neither here nor there due to his leg).

    If we are lucky on the injuries, we should make it to the semis and get put out by Australia (I think). However one or two injuries which are not unlikely we could come undone in the quarters.

    A group win should be safe with a boring but strong defensive display.

  • Comment number 20.

    If all Hape does is be boring in attack and boringly solid in defence I'd be quite happy. We have the likes of Foden, Ashton, Armitage, Youngs, Cueto and Tuilagi to be more exciting and run lines.

    Remember where this England team was when Johnson took over....shambles! He's done a good job and deserves a chance to do it his way.

  • Comment number 21.

    Some peculiar selections & ommissions in all 4 of the home nations squads. But this really does feel an uninspiring selection by us.

    The only oddity here is 4 second rows and Croft, but only 5 back rows! Cannot see the logic in that, only one is ever being rested. Ok the same can be said for 2R but you have Croft & 1/3 less to select.

    I see the logic in 5 props and at the expense of a centre is fine, Abbott in 2003 for instance had little involvement but the lack of cover at 10 is a worry, albeit I don't really rate Flutey or Hape too highly but would've gone for the former.

    Difficult to be too worked up when (bar a back row for 2nd row) it is exactly the 30 names anticipated for weeks but whilst the forwards generally pick themselves, the backs look very one dimensional. All a bit too much boshing through the middle and dependant on the selection a worrying lack of mobility in both attack & defence.

    Banahan primarily, I struggle to see what he brings to this level, Cueto has improved whilst his scoring record has done the opposite oddly. I'm a Tindall fan, but not in a side with both of those in the 22 too and we look dreadfully very weak at 12.

    But then this was a discussion for a couple of weeks ago, those 10 omitted included no obvious exceptions to this. Those with a bit of flair & sparkle were omitted either through selection (Simpson-Daniel, Strettle) or justifiably through their decline in form of their own accord (Geraghty, Cipriani).

    Hope some of the backs prove me wrong, but the weight on the shoulders of Ashton & Foden appears monumental.

  • Comment number 22.

    Feel sorry for Flutey. At his best, he is a much better all round player than Hape and would have given our midfield a bit of guile. Hopefully Tindall and Tuilagi can strike up a good partnership fast. Whilst I agree it is good to be solid in the middle of the park to let the likes of Ashton/Foden run free, surely its better to have more players on the pitch capable of scoring tries? Tuilagi seems equally good defensively and can cause major problems with his offensive game whereas Hape is a bit one dimensional. The better teams will find it very easy to defend against us if we're soley relying on Ashton to score swan dives all the time. We need danger players from one to fifteen Johnno!

  • Comment number 23.

    Personally I would question some of the decisions that have been made in selection but i agree completely with others. With Sheridan being injured recently the extra cover at front row is a good option but I disagree with the centre choices as there needs to be some creativity, if I was selecting the centres I would have chosen Hape, Tuilagi, Allen and possibly Matthew Tait and drop Tindal as he doesn't add anything to England and hasn't been effective since around 03. I do find the fly-half situation a bit questionable due to what occurred in 2007 but i wouldn't have taken hodgson either Steven Myler of Northampton should have been given the call. Admittedly if Johnson had everyone fit some players would have automatically made the squad such as Danny Care and Dave Strettle. Hopefully the England squad that has been chosen will justify selection and create a good result but I can only really see New Zealand winning the trophy with England being unfortunately able to challenge

  • Comment number 24.

    As someone who worshipped Johnno the player, I feel as though Johnno the manager needs a reality check. Hape as I have said on several BBC rugby blogs is not the best inside centre in the country.

    I would argue that even though he is the only '12' (In Johnno's world) in the team he's not even the best in the 30 man WC squad; Flood, Wilko, Tindall, Armitage and Tuilagi would all be a better 12 than him. He is absolutely awful.

    I understand taking Wilson along, though many people forget that Hartley started out as a prop, so we could of taken Fourie or Robshaw instead of Wilson, with Hartley there as a emergancy prop for the last 10mins of a game if needed.

    I still think we have better centres who play week in week out for premiership clubs that could provide us with an attacking element e.g. Vesty & Geraghty (also can cover 10), Allen, Barritt, Hipkiss, Wouldock. I'd even ask Mike Catt and Will Greenwood to come out of retirement before I took Hape.

    Fact is never mind eying a semi-final spot, I think we may come unstuck in the group stage. Argentina have a youngish lively centre pairing who can both pass and step. Scotland seem to have found the answer to their lack of creative centre with Joe Ansbro.

    Also Georgia and Romainia shouldn't be written off so lightly, remember back in 2007 when Georgia could of and probably should of beaten Ireland? England aren't much better than Ireland were back then, whereas Georgia are constantly improving.

    Rant over, so I will now be getting behind the boys (Except Hape - Praying he gets injured and sent home).

    Come on ENGLAND!!!!!!

  • Comment number 25.

    @ 20: Hape is fairly steady and doesnt make many mistakes in my book, like you said a bit boring. Which may seem ok, but this doesnt seem to get the ball moving out very much to the likes of Tindall let alone Ashton or Foden. (Unless it is an inside ball from 10 which is far to easy to defend when it is all you do)

    I agree we can afford for a boring 12 with the other players you mentioned bringing the flair, but I don't know if it the England tactics or poor decisions or execution from 12, but those players arent brought into the game effectively.

    We need to be varied. Hape cant crash ball all the time. Flood cant throw inside ball all the time. We need to use the width of the whole pitch, then have Foden and Ashton running those inside lines, but don't give it to them all the time. Surely this is simple rugby?

  • Comment number 26.

    Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Banahan and Hape - oh dear me. Thiose two have the turning circle of an Eddie Stobart fleet.

    Cant see them making lethal line breaks or side stepping an opponent to engineer the winning try.

    No pace, no skill. You cant expect just to out muscle the big teams. QF max for Eng.

    Jonno was a great player and is a very conservative, one dimensional coach.

  • Comment number 27.

    The pack looks sensible. Lawes can cover at 6 if necessary, I think a back row of Wood, Croft and Easter is an interesting idea - I pity the opposition hooker at line out time with that combination.

    As for centres, England really have very little talent there, most of it is all bash and crash stuff. Long term outside centre is probably Banahans best position because he is good at getting his hands through the tackle.

    As for scrum halves I have been very unimpressed by Care over the last few games because his distribution is poor and slow. Simpson has similar abilities to speed up game and break but has better passing skills. Even without injuries I would not have taken Care

  • Comment number 28.

    Lot of talk about the centre combination, which I agree telegraphs the boss's intentions just a tiny bit. But what about the back row? Crocked Moody and one specialist number 8? Does that worry anyone out there?

  • Comment number 29.

    @ 24: After the displays at the weekend from Argentina and Scotland, I think we should be easy favourites in both those matches. Hape is not totally useless. You wont see many people running through him. Some people have suggested Flood at 12. Centres and wingers will run straight through him. Hape and Tindall, boring but solid. Johnson wants to win by not letting other teams score. And then with the way Wilko played maybe kick as many drop goals as we can?

  • Comment number 30.

    @28 I think Haskell is seen as cover for 8. To be honest I am disapointed with the back row choices. It seems like one of the areas we have a few options. Shame Waldrom never got a run out, and I think Fourie has something to offer off the bench. As you mention a crooked Moody is a worry, especially with his lack of game time. And with the Captains band it shows he will be starting. I would have dropped Shaw (I dont see him having 80 minutes in him) and taken Waldrom, Fourie or even Robshaw (all three should have got a run out against Wales).

  • Comment number 31.

    I think it is an inspired choice by Johnson, really playing to our strengths at the moment. We are not blessed with fantastically skillful, pacey centres. We have good strong centres who defend well and make it hard for the opposition to score.

    we also have a solid pack which with a few less errors can really dominate the games. Just need to cut out the sloppy turnovers that happen far too often.

    We need to keep the ball, use the strength in out backs and smash the weaker teams, then just hope for a miracle come the semi's!

  • Comment number 32.

    So Liverpaul85 your last line of your first paragraph was literally stolen from my posts. And can hardly call it inspired. Unless his plan has been to play boring and predictable then come the semis Hape is going to realise how to paly union and set the pitch on fire. Massive Hustle! The Southern Hemisphere teams won't know what has hit them! That is inspired!

  • Comment number 33.

    @ 32

    terribly sorry but i haven't read all your posts, got halfway through them and realised they were all saying basically the same thing so thought i would put my own opinion in instead.

    Maybe setting the pitch on fire would make them more exciting. Because without wilkinson or flood playing at 12 its going to be a very dull way of playing. Unless Ashton is utilised correctly

  • Comment number 34.

    kiwiandproud - "England never looked remotely close to winning the 2007 World Cup?" Were you watching the same tournament as me? They lost the final 15-6, and could have won the thing if Mark Cueto's try hadn't been disallowed (correctly, aI should add). How is that not remotely close?!

  • Comment number 35.

    I think Hape suffers from being too much like the other centres we're taking. He is good defensively, as is Tindall. Tindall did make the odd break last time out, fair play to him, but the most surprised person about that, judging from his reaction was Mike Tindall.

    Can't argue with the scrum picks. You could argue another back row and one less lock, especially as Moody is injury prone at present. You could equally argue another fly half or inside centre and one less lock.

    To be honest, like others on here, the cast is die and given that, good luck to them all. I'll be rooting for them.

  • Comment number 36.

    @ 33 You cannot stick Wilko or Flood at 12. Not with out a 3rd specialist 10. And if you had taken the time to read the posts (as not all say the same thing) Flood is too weak defensively to play 12. He will get run over by centres and wingers (now I am repeating myself).

    It needs more than Ashton being utilsed correctly. If we just try and use him he will be too easy to defend against. We need Foden, Lawes, Croft, Easter, Haskell, Armitage all running lines so defenders don't know where to cover, then 10 12 and 13 playing heads up rugby to distribute accordingly. We cant stick to training ground moves (not that I have seen much evidence of them). Play what is infront of you.

  • Comment number 37.

    I think I meant the die is cast. Doh!

  • Comment number 38.

    @34 I totally agree. But looking at them in the group stage we didnt look like winning. Shows what a 36 - 0 hammering can do. At least we can say we didnt give up the title without a fight. That final could have been ours, TMO took to long, advantage should be given to the attacking team....encourages an attacking style and keeps momentum going!

    @35 I think the rest of the team was in as much shock due to the lack of support. There doesnt seem to be much running of players shoulders, maybe because there is a real expectation for players not to break.

    I am hoping and looking forward to Hape, Tindall, Banahan and Johnson proving us all wrong! COME ON BOYS!!!!!!

  • Comment number 39.

    New Zealand centres = great at creative, inventive rugby.

    Shontayne Hape = A centre from New Zealander.

    Hmm. Guess every rule needs its exception.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ 36

    I think your posts are too dull to read the whole thing so i will just stick to picking out snippets.

    I think you'll find that i was saying that Ashton needs to be utilised properly if we're playing crash and ruck rugby, not saying just give him the ball everytime, but when the space is there for him to use thats when we need to give him the ball. And your right, not just him, but in my opinion, utilising his assets will give us a much better chance of going on to beat the southern hemisphere teams than if we just use crash and ruck rugby!

  • Comment number 41.

    The other day in Central London I bumped into an extremely elderly lady pushing her shopping cart along the pavement, one hesitant step at a time. A tin of baked beans fell from her shopping, tumbling end over end as if in slow motion, and came to rest in a flower bed. Trembling with the effort she gradually leaned down, but I couldn't leave her in that predicament and picked it up for her and went on my way with her thanks.

    But she had more pace, penetration and creativity than Shontayne Hape.

  • Comment number 42.

    "But it highlights the reality that England are not going to win this World Cup playing the all-singing, all-dancing brand of rugby that bedazzled Australia at Twickenham last autumn."

    I'm a little confused by the above from Mr. Palmer considering the fact the same players that accomplished that feat in Twickenham last November have been picked! A team I would like to point out that included Hape at 12! I understand the issues raised about his current (lack of) form, but I feel that everyone has forgotten he was one of the standout backs for England that November.

    Furthermore amnesia seems to have struck regarding this team (and manager's) recent deliveries. A record score against Australia in November, a Six Nations victory, and not to mention a victory over the Aussie's down-under last summer for the first time since 03 (which may I add Hape was ALL part of!) It seems when it comes to England Rugby pessimism is all pervasive. It's a guarantee of course that if Hape and the apparently less popular pickings perform in this RWC the pundits will be extolling their virtues and claiming that they always knew they would perform!

  • Comment number 43.

    @41, that is a bit harsh in reality. He is far far from world class, but not completely useless. There are many 12s I would pick ahead of him. But think he could be used better if we got our tactics better!

  • Comment number 44.

    @42, you have a point, this team has accomplished some things. But since November it has not taken any further steps in development and creativity. This could be that England are not great at being favourites. We seem to rellish being the underdogs and coming from behind (2007 for example). Hape has done some good work, but has he got anything extra to give?

  • Comment number 45.

    It seems to me that jonno is doing what he knows best, getting the pack sorted and almost leaving the backs to do what they want. Maybe he needs someone else in the camp to step up and tell him that we need more creativity?!

  • Comment number 46.

    I did hear a rumour that there was a backs coach......but I could be wrong.
    There is enough experience in the backs for some one to stick their hand up and say this is how we are going to do it!

  • Comment number 47.

    Here We go again. Johnson names his team - a solid team - no real suprises and the usual happens with bloggers. Blah Blah Blah - should have taken such and such, Banhamn no good, hape no good blah blah blah - england can only get to the semis blah blah. I heard people like you lot in the last world cup and it sickens me that none of you can just be happy and support your team. Nothing but a bunch of unpatriotic part time fans who think they no it all. England are gonna win. We have a great team and i will continue to support them regardless even IF we lose. Get over yourselves people and deal with it

  • Comment number 48.

    @47 I am behind England all the way.....and I believe we have a chance of winning, most teams in the top 7 have a chance. There is a solid core here, I think you have missed what alot of people have beent rying to say is they WANT to see the potential England ahve unleashed, and to play a more attacking flowing style that we saw in November. And it has already been pointed out that we have the players to do it.
    Come match day we will all be singing swing low regardless of who is in the 12 jersey!

  • Comment number 49.

    now hape isnt a very good player but hes safe and good defensively my issue with everyone getting on the 12 13 pairing is this: the best way to create oppurtunities is quick ball but in the two tests vs wales the forwards were very poor slow to the breakdown and thats where games are lost now if for example you get hape or tindall running crash ball and dragging men in and then get the support in quick we have quick ball and the flair of youngs flood foden ashton cueto and maybe tuilagi to cause problems its simple stuff all this talk of centers needing flair is not always true its useful but not essential look at jamie roberts he hasnt got a lot of flair but is a very good player

  • Comment number 50.

    Well the backs coach doesn't seem to be doing a very good job does he?! Unless jonno is just telling him that all we need are defence-minded centres, who can tackle well, look like second rows and are unable to carry the ball further than about 3 yards! cause if thats what he's supposed to be doing with them, then he needs a pay rise!

    @ 47 I don't think anyone on here has said that we would stop supporting England at any point. But we are entitled to have our opinion on the matter, as are you. Even if you feel my opinion is wrong, i am still entitled to it! and i'll say whatever i want!!

    So how bout you get over yourself!

  • Comment number 51.

    I think we need to bring Jason Robinson back from retirement... Agree?

  • Comment number 52.

    I personally feel that tuilagi could be the key for us, with him and ashton providing some much needed spark from the backs, England really could go all the way. the only problem is his lack of experience.

    But if he plays 13 (which i don't think he will as Tindall will probably start) then maybe he and hape could form quite a partnership.

  • Comment number 53.

    @49 I agree. I think I have echoed some of this already, just maybe not put as well. Jonno obviously wants us to be strong defensively which is good. So now we need to work with that and play to our strengths. Forwards do well in the set piece but ahve been absent in the lose. Back row need to step up. If Youngs can rediscover his form, or Simpson get onto the pitch, quickball and support runners coming from depth then second phase ball could be dangerous.
    I dont want to see forwards taking the ball standing still and getting pushed backwards!

    Liverpaul85, try and stay calm, we are rugby fans not football thugs!

  • Comment number 54.

    @ 51 josh butt

    I disagree, as good a player as he was, i'm not sure that he would still have the legs, or the match sharpness.

  • Comment number 55.

    If only Josh Butt...........he had a flair that no other Englsih player has had since. Everytime he got the ball you felt he could score. But sadly I dont think many players can continue to play at the highest level once they reach their mid 30's!

  • Comment number 56.

    @ 54

    Haha i know i was only kidding :) but he is up there with the Greats, he stands strong with the Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Leonard, Jonny Wilkinson and the one we have learnt to respect The Mighty Martin Johnson :)

  • Comment number 57.

    @56 Deffiantely one of the greats! Had a natural talent that you couldnt teach and did not have it coached out of him. Yet to be replaced in the England set up!

  • Comment number 58.

    I don't know if i can post youtube links but for every England Rugby Fan, they have to watch this... Very inspiring for the Home Nation ! :)

  • Comment number 59.

    Will watch that later, cant access youtube on this computer!

  • Comment number 60.

    Robinson was a great player, not sure what was the most impressive, his acceleration, his top speed or how hard you could see he worked to become one of the best ever.....

  • Comment number 61.

    @ 59

    Post a comment about what you think, when you watch it.

  • Comment number 62.


    Dont gob off saying you have an opinion and blah blah blah and then tell me to get over myself (basicly you have just said I dont have one and everyone needs to listen to you) like that is going to happen

    I am free to exress my points and I have read this blog for sometime. Most people on here are genuine fans with a good point of view and reasons to back up their views. Others just have to complain ( i get bored with it) Johnsons pick is good and i have to say that in the end it does not come down to the coach. It all depends on the players on the pitch. Reach down and pull out every ounce of strengh and desire they have to win. I bet IF england loose, media nd everybody else will be blaming johnson. Rubbish. Its the players who in the end will decide to either win or lose. Johnson has chosen people who want to win they now need to prove it

  • Comment number 63.

    Liverpaul, it was never his top speed that made him great. He admited over 100 yards many would beat him, but over 10 yards he was second to none. he step was impossible to read, I think because he didnt know which way he was going to go until he saw the defender committed to one way.
    But you are right, his drive just to take part was incredible. He put his body through so much, in League and Union just to be on the pitch!

  • Comment number 64.

    @62 Twickenhamloyal, you ahve a point about it being the players who have a main role in getting the win. But you cant cut the coach out completely. Had say Johnson picked Gheraty, or Farrell at 10 then he would be in error of not picking the best available to him and would have sometihng to answer for in the ensuing loss. Also why is it recently Youngs (and care) feel the need to take steps before passing (thus causing slower ball), surely it is how they have been coached. Sure you could say the player has a choice as to waht they do. But can you blame them for not going against what their bosses have told them to do, and start singing off a different hym sheet to everyone else?
    I wouldn't say it is a 50/50 split, but sometimes it is a managers fault.

  • Comment number 65.

    what wins world cups? An unbreachable defence. Reliable kicker who can score points 50metres out at an angle. loose forwards who can steal ball create turnovers and a team who doesnt give away penalties in kickable positions. Does england have this? I dont see it this is not the class of 2003 and wilkinson will be great if he doesnt get injured but is he pass his sell by date? I dont see why teams fear the all blacks their brand of rugby doesnt win world cups we will just hope that france meets them again... The team i feel that should be watched and are under the radar is australia. Saturdays final tri nations game will give us a better idea. England on the other hand know how they want to execute their gameplan by the old ram crashing centres but will they be able to hold on to possession to force teams into giving away penalties or will they simply kick it away? You be the judge of these questions....

  • Comment number 66.

    On the subject of Johnny Wilkinson , this is probably one of the best World Cups he's can have to preform in as by the looking of his age of 32, it may and I say MAY be his last, as you can see from recent years that Wilko is very prone to injury, but with age hitting him hard, i think that Wilkinson will give it everything he has got whether or not he is injured :) Much love for the Man in the Number 10 Jersey :)

  • Comment number 67.

    One thing you can say about Wilko is that he gives it his all, and he is his own worst critic. Lets hope he gets given good ball and a pack moving forward to play behind. Also worth a note that in the first wales test he made the most tackles. Back row need to step up!

  • Comment number 68.


    I think you may need to re-read my post, i said you were entitled to your opinion. as am I. I never said that my opinion was all that mattered, and tbh, i couldn't give 2 squirts of S*** whether you agree or disagree with me.

    I think you'll find that you came on here gobbing off and I was entitled to give my opinion on your post, which surely is the whole point of being on here?!

    I am not here to complain about Johnson's squad, i have an opinion on who i would take and who i wouldn't, who i would play where and who would be left warming the bench, and i am as free as anyone else to express that.

    So me telling you to get over yourself was due to your lack of diplomacy in how you worded your post

  • Comment number 69.

    @ 67

    Have to agree, wilko does always give 110%.

    A true legend and a man who will always put his body on the line for the good of the team. If only there were always 14 others to do the same!

    not saying that some other don't, just not as much. lol

  • Comment number 70.

    Liverpaul85 you are clearly a diplomat! But you are right this is a place for discussion and debate. If you don't want to hear critisism go watch the highlights or something.

    Although it has to be said some people are very narrow minded. There have been some stupid suggestions.

    And other people just steal ideas of other, not naming and names *cough*paul*cough*.

  • Comment number 71.

    Surely 100% is all anyone can give?

  • Comment number 72.

    @ 70 I think you'll find, as already discussed, that i did not steal your ideas. I just had a similar opinion to you! considering i hadn't read your boring posts!

    @ 71 you would have thought so wouldn't you....but not wilko.....what a guy!! ;)

  • Comment number 73.

    Boring to a football thug, but I am sure all rugby gentlemen found my input highly interesting. I woulndn't expect you to understand.

  • Comment number 74.

    @ 73

    what exactly are you basing your theory that i'm a football thug? i'm going to guess and say my name. which means that i would guess your German.

    Mr Daver Ichallen.....

  • Comment number 75.

    @ 74. or it could be DAVE Richallen.

  • Comment number 76.


    fair point. I suppose a level of blame must be put at the managers feet. Its the media I find frustrating, even in football its the managers fault always. Its seems harsh. Johnson has my respect. He has proved he can pick players and sees talent. But he needs to bring the best out of the team.


    Shh Shh Shh now. I did not realise i was talking with a rude petulant child. I though we were having a discussion. If you cant play nice, then dont play. Get back to your computer games and leave rugby to real men

  • Comment number 77.

    @ 76

    i think i will not shh....thanks anyway though. But this is an opinion page so i shall continue to give my opinion.

    not quite sure how I wasn't playing nice? i thought i was pretty polite considering. But now you have to revert to "petulant" childish name calling?! really. I'm sure at our age and being men, we could sort this out another way?

    How about....we meet somewhere...just me and of rock paper scissors. Now is there a more masculine game?! Or maybe a game of shinty? if you fancy it?

  • Comment number 78.

    @Liverpaul85, no its not your name, its just the way you talk. Can tell everything needs to be simplified! And I am from Germany, how clever of you!

    @Twinckenhamloyal football is the worst for blaming managers. Two losses on the trot and the manager is out the door. How many years did it take Woodward to build a world champion team? Footballers also play with a lack of pride. I was ashamed by the current football world cup. No devotion.

    On the topic of devotion, did anyone notice how proud Tuilagi seemed to be when singing the national anthem before the first wales test? Looked like t meant the world to him!

  • Comment number 79.

    @76 I did not take you for a fan of Shinty! That wold be a great way to solve an arguement. Though maybe a game of rugby golf would be more appropriate!

    And Paul are you really 85?

  • Comment number 80.

    @ 78

    i think it is unfair to stereotype all footballers as having no devotion. Look at some of the lesser sides around and you can see that they have real pride in the shirt. I admit that the money bandied around in football nowadays takes the shine off the game at the highest level.

    Have to agree about the managers being blamed too much in football though. and i think rugby can be proud that it doesn't happen as much. but i think with rugby you get a real sense of teamwork and loyalty that you don't get from football teams

  • Comment number 81.

    @80, I was mainly refering to the world cup. I have not watched any other football in years so could not fully comment. But most of the players did not look like they wanted to be there.

    But if this rugby team puts in as much effort with as much pride as the team did in 2007, then what ever the result, we should be able to walk away with our heads held high!

  • Comment number 82.

    The RWC is not about fluent, expansive 15-man total rugby.
    It is about winning.
    The single biggest factor will be how England respond to the way the referee's interpretation of the instructions the IRB have given them as to how the laws of the game should be applied.
    Stay on your feet and don't get isolated.

  • Comment number 83.


    Handbags or conkers. Sound like you are calling me out for a duel. Typical football fan. dont talk again to me. Im done with you, I see a lost cause with you. Everybody is wrong, you are right or you get nasty, sound like a right old women. Bet your husband gets fed up with you.


    Football is bad for blaming managers. look at chelsea. Lose get fired. Thankfully rugby is more gentlemenly. It took woodward years to build a winning rugby team. Johnson has not had long. I belive we can win the world cup but we may be a bit early. 2015 and we can be ready. It all depends on whether the rfu will bow down to media pressure if england lose and sack johnson - i pray they do not

  • Comment number 84.

    Win lose or draw, England need to be more inventive with their back play. They dont seem to draw defenders or run many good supporting lines (though there was signs of this at the start of the 6N). At times it seems we are trying to run before we can walk.

  • Comment number 85.


    Starting to wonder if you can read?? just that i'm pretty sure that i have said on more than one occasion that you have a right to your opinion, so am not sure how that is being nasty? i'm up for a duel if you want one? like i said....a game of shinty if you want?! name the place i'll bring the equipment!

    When have i said you or anyone else was wrong? i think you'll find i am merely expressing my opinion on other peoples views, as you are with mine. they are your thoughts and you can express them as you please. if i don't agree then fine, that is only my opinion. I think you may need to just take a second and think about what you write before you write it. maybe jot it down on an old electricity bill (probably your mum or dads as i would imagine you still live at home) then put it onto word, spell check, click tools, then thesaurus, then change some words, then highlight it, and press delete. Then after a deep breath......write it again

  • Comment number 86.


    blah blah. blah blah. blah blah blah blah. I dont speak child. Stop talking to me. Ive asked once. I dont want to waste my time. Im going to bed now with my wife. So go do whatever it is you do and dont talk to me again im on here to talk rugby not talk s*** with you. Grow up

  • Comment number 87.

    @ 84

    Completely agree with you there. We don't seem to always have the basics sorted. Once we have them down, then we can be more inventive!

    @ 83

    I agree that the media hype around the eventual placings of the england team will have a massive effect on Johnson and whether the RFU keep him in his position. But i think we need to look at where we were when he took over, and where we are at the end of the WC and see whether there has actually been a progression, and if they feel there is, then he is the right man for the job.

    My personal OPINION is that we have made huge strides under Johnson, our scrummaging is excellent in general just with the odd individual error. The pack seem pretty solid.

    I do however feel that we need to try and play a more expansive passing game when the opportunity arises. But we can only do that to good effect when all the basics are covered

  • Comment number 88.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 89.

    @82 Paul, you have a point but I think you have over simplified it. The biggest factor will be if we can out score our opponents!

  • Comment number 90.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 91.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 92.

    @Liverpaul85 you are entitled to your opinion but you are just copying me still! And our forwards do well in the set piece but are lost in the lose!

    @twickenhamloyal, brave man bringing your wife into a debate!

  • Comment number 93.

    Well with a coule of exceptions, i think that Johnson has done reasonably well, not sure i would have taken as many second rows and i would probably have taken another 10/12 but i guess thats my opinion. And maybe thats why i'm not England coach!

  • Comment number 94.

    @ 92

    I agree that we're not fantastic in the loose, but if moody can get back to full fitness i think that gives us an extra boost in that department, and maybe with haskell in there as well? what do you think?

  • Comment number 95.

    Im sure there are 100 more reasons why you are not England coach! being a child maybe one?

  • Comment number 96.

    If Moody gets back to fitness is a big IF. And the there is the IF of if he can STAY fit! I can see Tindall taking on the captaincy very quickly. That leaves a void though, as a fully fit moody is one of the best scrappers in the game for a loose ball! Haskell is a different sort of player but would like to see him using his size a bit more. We will miss mad dog moody when he injures himself.

  • Comment number 97.

    @ 95 TBH i can see that being the ONLY reason...other than that i think i'm in with a shout when the media hype means the RFU sack Johnson. got my cv ready!

    @ 96 Agree that its a big IF, but i don't think Johnson would have taken him if he didn't think he was going to play. And i didn't mean haskell playing instead of moody, i meant having haskell start as well as moody (if fit)

  • Comment number 98.

    Make yourself clear then! I can see how you made twickenhamloyal cry now!

    I dont know if I would have Haskell and Moody, as Moody is a 7, and Croft and Wood would be ahead of Haskell at 6, and i think Easter might just sneak in ahead of Haskell at 8, so maybe Haskell on the bench, as he could cover 7 or 8, 6 at a push!

  • Comment number 99.

    @ 98 I was thinking about having haskell at 8 instead of easter, just feel he is better in the loose which i think most people will agree is a weak point of the england side.

    Johnson has got some tough choices. Glad its not me making them.....yet!

  • Comment number 100.


    oh belive me the little p*** has not made me cry. laugh a bit becuse of his arrogance but not cry. I think i need to stop comming on here. Anger issues. Probably should see someone but with rwc coming up where would the fun be in that, get down the pub and upset the welshies and scousers


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