What made the dire performance against Italy even harder to swallow were the words of captain Steve Borthwick and other members of the squad. Contrary to what Borthwick said, England didn’t do “some great stuff” and the quality of their performance was as limited as their ambition in attack.
Statements such as “we’re a really close group”, and “we’re making real progress behind the scenes” were wearing thin during the autumn, and by now they are so tiresome that it’s almost comical.
The performance against Wales in Round 1 showed a degree of promise, with three tries scored and some suggestion of a gameplan. Our hopes were raised momentarily, but then quickly flattened once again with the dross in Rome that showed that there isn’t really any direction or determination to play.
This weekend’s match against Ireland feels like something of a last chance. Another sub-standard display and the long-suffering supporters may just lose interest, and abandon faith in a side that treats the public as fools by attempting to disguise a dodgy performance when interviewed about the game.
If England resort to their limited kicking gameplan and execute it badly, they’ll be taught a lesson by an Ireland side looking for redemption after defeat in Paris. It could feasibly be a 20-point winning margin for Brian O’Driscoll’s men if they play to their potential and England do not as usual.
England need to play. The forwards need to hit the breakdown at pace to produce quick ball. Danny Care needs to offer quality service to Jonny Wilkinson, who needs to stand closer to the gainline. Then Riki Flutey and Mathew Tait need to run at pace, ask questions of defenders when they don’t have the ball, and run into space when they do. If that happens, opportunities will present themselves and the back three should be good enough to take them. I have no doubt that the public will be more forgiving of defeat if there is at least some exhibition of rugby.
But what happens if they don’t play? What happens if England stick to a narrow gameplan and lose at Twickenham? Will we get served the same tripe about making progress, and creating the right environment?
Will things just carry on as usual, with defeats in Edinburgh and Paris fairly likely? Will we have to wait until embarrassing failure at the World Cup before things change?