The Oxford Dictionary defines flair in two ways – ‘natural talent’ and ‘style’ while Roget’s Thesaurus lists the words: ability, aptitude and artistry as its fellow synonyms. Considering the fall-out from England’s lacklustre showing last weekend against Australia, one can imagine Martin Johnson flicking through the pages for other superlatives to describe his team’s current state – perhaps laboured or impotent, even clueless?
In his playing days Johnson offered no excuses, he never took a backward step. So why are England fans pulling their hair out baffled as to why England, with all their resources, appear so limp going forward? Is flair simply not in our vocabulary?
You either have flair or you don’t. Flair cannot be taught: it is like an innate ability – you are born with or without it. Johnson has the largest player-base in the world at his disposal and yet looking at his team-sheet for Argentina on Saturday, the lack of an x-factor is staggeringly obvious.
To name a side full of individual talents would be a mistake. But a few sprinkles of pace and creativity would surely unlock the door Johnson that has yet to find the key for.
If you search on YouTube for Matthew Tait, James Simpson-Daniel and Danny Cipriani the tribute videos that follow emphatically answer the flair conundrum. Why Johnson doesn’t pick these modern starlets is beyond me but his conservatism is stifling England’s true potential.
He does however from time to time pick the odd gem. Shane Geraghty has been turning heads at Northampton this season, orchestrating some sublime running rugby from behind the scrum. And yet for some reason his form evaporated before his eyes last weekend. Was it nerves? Maybe. Was it due to over-coaching and conflicting messages from the England hierarchy? More likely.
Much has been said and written in the last week (and arguably since they were appointed) about defence coach Mike Ford and forwards coach John Wells – and rightly so. But the man that needs to be given a louder voice is attack coach Brian Smith.
Smith was brought into the national coaching set-up in July last year after turning London Irish into the most eye-catching team in the Guinness Premiership and was expected to inject some fresh impetus to England’s stagnant attack.
As if you didn’t know, England didn’t score a single point in the second half against the Aussies and rarely threatened to cross the 22 let alone the try-line. Personnel on the field must surely take the blame. Oh no wait, don’t the ramifications lie solely with the coaches?
Such a grey area, but what is clear is Smith needs to be heard and his philosophies instilled otherwise England’s dormant offense will continue.
Argentina head to Twickenham next – powerful, big and dangerous but undercooked. Johnson’s position is safe even if England lose but the pages are turning more quickly in his dictionary. Words such as shown, the, and door may not be far away.
By Tom Walker