England’s Six Nations: what have we learned?

As the curtain came down on the 2010 RBS Six Nations Championship, there was a more optimistic outlook for English rugby, mixed with frustration that it took until the last game before any improvement was shown. Played five, won two, lost two, drew one – but what have we learned?

Johnno must pick on form

If there’s one thing to take from this tournament is that selection for England should be based on form, rather than reputation. Of course, we’ve all known that for the last six years, but stubborn Johnno should have had his eyes opened by the performance of Ben Foden in Paris.

It seemed that every time the team was announced, there was an air of frustration among the fans, and then after all those changed were made at the end, the whole nation was shouting, ‘I told you so’ when Ashton fed Foden to score against France. That means we really ought to see the likes of Courtney Lawes, Nick Kennedy, Phil Dowson and Ben Youngs if they finish the season strongly.

Sheridan can’t return quickly enough

The front row has been a real problem area over the last few weeks, and the return of Andy Sheridan is needed to shore things up in the set-piece. Although he had a hard time against the French, Dan Cole should be a fixture at tight-head, and with Sheridan on the other side of the scrum, it looks like a much more solid unit.

Hartley’s had his chance

I’ve been a supporter of Hartley this season, watching him captain Northampton, but he has had a poor Six Nations. Lineout throwing was wayward throughout, and he was hauled off at least twice because he was playing badly. I’m not sure what the answer is, because I’m not a huge fan of Lee Mears or Steve Borthwick, but it looks like something needs to change.

Moody is our leader

The fact that nobody was disappointed when Steve Borthwick had to pull out tells us something. Lewis Moody led by example against the French, and I’m sure that the overall improvement in performance had something to do with it. He’s tenacious and committed and deserves his place in the team, and that’s all we’re looking for in a captain at this stage.

The backs need to run

More often than not, when the ball was delivered by the forwards, the backs were standing still and well behind the gainline – unsurprisingly, kicking seems like the best option in that scenario. However, at times, they did decide to run, and they did ask a few questions of defenders by putting pace onto the ball and looking for space.

England’s kicking from hand has been awful, and when that is the chosen approach 90% of the time, it’s not a shock that the game is awful to watch and the team gets nowhere.

There might be one or two things to add to this list, so feel free to let us know your thoughts.

16 thoughts on “England’s Six Nations: what have we learned?

  1. Everything you say is correct…we seem to prefer being underdogs!?
    If we played with the ferocity of the 1st half against the Irish an scots we would have won both games.
    Having said that, let’s not get carried away here. The French simply didn’t turn up.

    On another note, can we start a edition for the BBC to introduce a “scrum counter” not counting the time the ball is in scrums. Rather the length of time Brian Moore talks about them!

  2. The single most important lesson learnt must surely be that England today are not England circa 2003.

    England do not posses a pack that can dominate opposition as the best English packs have done.
    – the older players simply are not good enough (with the exception of Mad Dog, but as a 6 and a 6 only) Payne, Borthwick, Easter, Worsley… none of these players are anything less than Corry-committed. But none are good enough. Looking at the next generation of players would suggest a change of approach is needed. While Lawes and Hartley will almost certainly develop into the kind of physical players that dominate as Johnson et al or Moore and friends used to, players like Armitage, Saull, Croft, Kennedy, Gaskell etc suggest a pack capable of more. Even Dan Cole possesses the ability to contribute out wide, to carry without slowing things up, maybe even to offload? We can but dream…

    So the next question: Is it possible to make this transition before the next world cup. The answer of course is no. Woodward’s 1999 WC campaign perhaps suggests how the next WC can be approached (I am taking it as read that a side built on the Borthwick’s of this world can not challenge for anything other than a respectable finish).

    Youth blended with experience. A playing style defined. And like 1999 the coaches need to argue that the side are capable of winning it. Just like then no one outside of England will have any confidence in such a thing happening. But it is necessary. For the players and the public.

    So Tindall remains in the side. And Wilko in the squad. Thompson, Shaw and Moody also retain their current places. If form allows of course.

    Wether the current coaching set up is able to learn any lessons other than the ones they have already picked from the tournament is another question. And of course they won’t. Wells has shown his inability to adapt. Johnson simply isn’t qualified. Let’s hope that, just as happened against France, the right side and style gets picked “by accident”.

    That’s not much of a hope is it?

  3. Really interesting comments, Morgan, and I think you are right. England have tried to play the same forward-oriented gameplan, even though they don’t have the players to execute it.

    There is an exciting crop of players who will hopefully make the step up very soon, but it needs a change of mindset by the coaching team – and that probably won’t happen between now and the World Cup.

  4. Did anyone see the Eng v Wal U20 match? If not check type “Joe Marler try” into you tube and get him in the Senior team asap!

  5. Here are my take-aways.

    The coaching is not working
    Too many instances of players not doing the basics right. When our best hooker can’t throw straight, our best props get taken apart by superior technique (we have a full time scrum coach apparently, but it seems they were not prepared for the treatment they got on Saturday), our goal kickers have the lowest success rate in tournament, our backs can’t pull off even the most basic moves and miss too many tackles, and our half-backs seem to be on different planets – something fundamental is wrong. Too many constraints put on players and too much focus on complicated moves that we can’t execute on. Many examples of good, promising players floundering (Hartley is the best example) – clearly their involvement in the elite squad is not making them better players. Hartley has the potential to be a long-serving superstar for England, but without the right guidance he will be mediocre at best.

    Lack of vision
    It appears that the coaching staff does not have a clear idea of how they want to play the game. There’s no cohesive gameplan. Johnno’s rugby philosophy was formed at a time when forward dominance was a reliable bedrock. It isn’t any more, but he has no plan B.

    Short-term thinking
    Have we moved any closer to a plan for RWC 2011? The only shreds of progress I can point to are (1) Foden finally getting a game (just one though – imagine how much more we would know about him with three or four games under his belt); (2) Ditto Flood – but we didn’t find out much we didn’t already know about him, and haven’t made progress in testing any other potential 10’s in that role; (3) the emergence of Dan Cole (albeit forced on Johnno due to injuries); and (4) ditto Ashton. Too many opportunities to see young players tested, going to waste.

    Team selection
    Really this is just a reflection of everything else that’s wrong. But their have also been too many examples of idiotic individual selections. It’s easiest to highlight this by looking at the players overlooked or called up only out of desperation at the 11th hour – Ashton, Foden, Lawes and Youngs for example.

    Johnno has sole responsibility for all of this. England will not be more than mediocre under his stewardship. The standard of the 6N has always been pretty mediocre, but under SCW England rose to a new level, a level where they dominated the NH and were feared in the SH. I imagine Rob Andrew is busy working on his powerpoint right now, ready to explain to the old farts that this was a successful campaign, and just a couple of tweaks are needed now to be real contenders in 2011. I expect there could be a couple of coaching changes, but nothing material. Depressing. And the only thing we can do is watch it play out. Rant over….sorry.

  6. All valid points Mat, as always. The lack of any clear gameplan is a real concern. It’s frustrating that just as changes are finally made and there’s a hint of progress, there are a few months without any international rugby.

  7. I agree with the points above but what also needs to be stressed is that players coming back from injury must not be selected for England, look at Flutey, Armitage and even Ciprianni, they must get game time, and get their form back again. I know it worked with Tindall but he was a gamble after only a couple of games back for Gloucester.

  8. Agreed with just about everything, the lack of international fixtures for awhile is a problem, gives the no-hopers (sorry I mean Injured regulars) a chance to get fit and reselected as part of MJ’s loyalty fixation.
    Pity if it happens but I have this dreadful feeling………that Borthwick will be reinstated as captain – see loyalty fixation above.

  9. That’s not a huge surprise to be honest. I can’t see any changes happening between now and the World Cup, so we just have to hope they learned a lesson in Paris, that they pick on form and that they don’t try to tell each player exactly what to do in every different scenario, so that they lose all sense of creativity.

  10. England, what have we learned? Bugger all having read that telegraph article.
    So we must prepare for a SH summer tour that may be a very disappointing affair. I hope that ‘head in the sand’ or ‘up the ar*e’ if you prefer coaching team take note that changes are needed, we cannot go back to where we were at the start of the 6 nations.

  11. Dear Poms,

    I am a Saffa and like most of us we have always had a lot of respect for English rugby.I went to the same school as Butch James…. and Michael Catt was a Saffa…your club rugby is high even beating the Springboks albeit a second string side…. even after a Tri- Nations victory. Our hero captain Francois Pienaar did his mark in club rugby after being treated by our A.H, Louis Luyt in SA. Jeremy Thomson was a friend of mine and could have played for Eng. However the WC 2011 is just around the corner and all the Boks know that if they can beat the AB’s and the Les Bleus,,they are home and dry and another cup that comes (with the compliments of Webb Ellis from Rugby School) making it 3 out of 5 (60%).
    If you are going to be a contender in 2011 in NZ..then a lot of homework must be done!!!

  12. The prime problem is coaching……only world class coaching can turn a group of players into a world class team.

    Hark back to 2003. Australia had a group of very ordinary players and yet
    managed to beat the All Blacks and almost beat England in successive weeks. I suspect England would not have successively beaten AB and Australia.

    So, England have probably five times as many players as Australia and probably 30 times Scotland’s resources, and yet currently cant beat either

    Just because Johnson and Smith were average to good players doesnt make them world class coaches. Australia hev never had a top player as coach….they pick the best coach from his coaching record.

    So, if you want to compete 2011, you have the players…where is the world class coach

    Fire Johnson, reinstate Woodward ! asap.

  13. David to say that MJ was an average to good player is wrong, he was considered one of the best second rows in the northern hemisphere and one of the most inspirational captains in World Rugby, come on mate keep it real. But agree great player does not equate great coach, MJ needs to learn his trade from the bottom up. I know Clive Woodward was fast tracked but I believe he cut his teeth as the Henley coach first, then worked his way up.

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