Fear and indecision mean England overcomplicate a simple game

Watching a seemingly clueless England labour to victory over an Italian side intent on committing suicide was not an enjoyable experience on Saturday. And the performances of their so-called rivals in the Six Nations put into even sharper relief just how poor and unimaginative England were. They may as well have been playing a different sport to Wales, Ireland and France.


We have been here before. The 2007 Six Nations, the World Cup, the 2008 Six Nations and the autumn internationals all had England supporters asking exactly the same questions and coming up with fewer and fewer answers. We have been disillusioned with England’s performances for a long time now but disillusionment, disappointment and even anger has given way to a tired resignation, an acceptance that the team is just not very good and that there is as little light at the end of the tunnel as ever.

The crowd were quiet at Twickenham. Usually when England are playing badly the crowd express their displeasure and then try to lift the team. On Saturday there was none of that, only resignation because it was the sort of performance we have come to expect. That silence was a louder condemnation of England’s recent failures than anything even the most lyrical critic could produce.

Occasionally through these dark days there has been a glimmer but it is almost 12 months now since the performance against Ireland brought a degree of hope. Since then it has been darkness all the way and you will no longer hear the notes of hope and optimism which usually features in conversations between England rugby supporters.

I can’t think of any team in the world who play rugby like England. Everything they do is paralysed by fear. There is no pace, no conviction and no intensity. The players look like they’re trying to figure out what the coaches would want them to do in any given situation rather than playing what’s in front of them. Whether this is the case or not, it cannot be denied that individuals who play with freedom and exuberance in club colours suddenly become rabbits in the headlights when they pull on the white jersey, shackled by some invisible force which sucks the life out of them.

Wales, Ireland and France played with conviction and confidence, backing whatever decision they made 100% and carrying through with it. Every time England players make a decision they do so with hesitancy, they don’t look like they fully believe in what they are doing and you just can’t play international sport like that.

England do not have players of the class of 5 years ago but they are a damned sight better than they have shown in recent times in international rugby. They show it week in, week out with their clubs. It used to be the case that pulling on the international jersey would elevate players to new heights, bring the best out of them and make them play above themselves. For too long, the opposite has been the case with England and the most urgent question facing the management team is, why? So far, they have drawn a blank.

It was a joy watching the other 3 teams play at the weekend. They were imaginative, physical, skilful and quick. Could any of these adjectives, all so central to any successful modern rugby team, honestly be applied to anything England did on Saturday? Only through the use of vivid imagination or a willing departure from reality. It is a mystery what England are trying to achieve with the way they play. Wales, Ireland and France played a simple game. There was nothing in the way of rocket science about it but England made it look so complicated that you almost felt sorry for them, such was the emotion and brainpower they seemed to be expending when carrying out even the most basic of tasks.

So what is the answer? Well, who knows? The same suggestions are raised time after time and they all seem so obvious. Play flat, clear the breakdown with power, win the contact, run straight, utilise space with your quick men, have the right players in the right areas, attack with pace, kick with direction and purpose. All basic, all achieved by most rugby teams worth their salt, all seemingly beyond the best England have to offer.

The players should be told at the weekend to just go out and play – who knows what might happen then. It’s not like they have anything to lose and it wouldn’t be a tactical u-turn because at the moment they don’t have any discernible tactics. The players look cowed, shackled, bewildered and lost. But they are all good players, some are very good. They should be encouraged to make decisions, given the confidence to try things and assured that they will not be criticised for the decisions they take as long as they actually make them and carry them through without dithering.

The job of the England management this week should be confidence-building, making the players believe they deserve to be there, that this is their team, that they are not building for some intangible point in the future, their time is now and they need to start playing.

By Stuart Peel

2 thoughts on “Fear and indecision mean England overcomplicate a simple game

  1. My issue with the England set up at the moment is It is unclear what mandate they are attempting to follow. Are they, as they keep telling us, a young team who is developing and learning or are they genuine in their belief that they should be able to beat the best in the world. The two could not be further from one another. Personally I would prefer to play a young team and develop with a plan of nurturing players through for the next few years. This would entail picking and sticking with players such as Tait, Cipriani, James Simpson Daniel, Flood, Gerharty, Armitage, Kennedy, Care, Narraway, Haskell etc. However this method does i admit leave the door open to defeats certainly early on and with the Twickenham crowd coughing up 70quid a time i can see why he management may not be keen to test the patience of 80,000 people. Having said that if afterwards Johnson came out and said ‘Look…this team is young we will get better’- i suggest he would be excused the occassional bad game. Backing youth is something england have consistently failed to do correctly for years. The mis-handling of Tait a few years ago, the inclusion of Anthony Allen only for him now to be no-where near the squad.

    For me, england (Martin Johnson) seem obsessed with a ‘dads army’ (RWC 2003) attitude that players need to be closing in on / past 30 to be ‘world class’! Can anyone explain how Borthwick, Easter, Julian White, Jamie Noon, Andy Goode, Ricky Flutey etc are really now, if they ever were, truley world class players. We have no idea if Narraway, Dan Ward-Smith, Simpson Daniel, Hipkiss etc will be world class as they will not get a sniff until the aforementioned players retire, leaving us with having to rebuild a team from 28yr old somethings. It was a similar situation when many of the RWC2003 30 somethings didnt immediately retire and we were left with the martin corry situation.

    Until England take a step back and ultimately decide what the plan for the next two years is, let alone up to the next world cup, i fear we will have this cycle of disappointing autumn internationals and desolate 6 nations. England also need to stop treating fans like idiots, its clear to anybody who saw the other games at the weekend that england have if anything gone backwards over the last 12months and Martin Johnson is folling no-one if he thinks england are even close to compting with ireland, wales and france. Sure once every four years we may have a couple of lucky games in a world cup and scrape through to finals but does any england fan want to spend 4yrs sat round watching defeat after defeat for a two week respite during a world cup??

  2. Apologies for the rant but being an ex-pat we dont get the intense media covergae over here so have had to vent my anger this way!

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