Johnson must relinquish the conservatism and release the flair

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

6 thoughts on “Johnson must relinquish the conservatism and release the flair

  1. I’ve been pondering for a long time why Smiths “vision” isn’t materialising. All I can assume is ford & wells are too dominant…

    But here’s a thought

    if that is the case, won’t we see a world class frustrated coach like Smith pack up his toys and go elsewhere? Surely he will be a man in demand – I think there were lots of rumours linkng him with Aus before England cams knocking. Surely if he is the world class attacking coach we saw at Irish he won’t suffer this interminable rubbish for long?

    So let’s wait and see but might be worth an outside £10 bet that England will be one coach short come the New Year. And for what it’s worth, it’s the one we can least afford to lose in my honourable opinion…

  2. I think the problem is that Wells and Ford are being evaluated from the start of the Johnson era instead of from when they started their jobs. A quick check on Wikipedia reveals this to be 2006 when Andy Robinson was still head coach! If things do not improve in the next two games then I think it is fair to say that they have had sufficient chance to prove themselves and that it would not be too ‘football’ to sack them.

  3. Has anyone else noticed. but when England are in competition of the knockout variety, they seem to pull something out of the bag.even in defeat and that does not apply just to Rugby. Cricket and Football are just the same to name but two, even at club level

    All sports managers and coaches, in anything other than sudden death elimination matches appear to give the instructions

    “Go out there boys, enjoy your game, do your very best to win……………..BUT GOD BLOODY HELP YOU IF YOU LOSE”

    Those sort of orders do nothing for the spectators, managers, fans or the team alike.

    Maybe Fakey never lined up at such high levels, but in his day we did not need any instructions or bugger all else, we went out on the Park with only one thought and intention in 15 heads…………………Winning!!!!! Preferably without maiming or hurting ourselves or somebody else. If winning went against some coaches’ idea of the ultimate goal, we ignored the coach and got on with it

  4. Excellent article Tom. Tait’s absence is still a mystery to me. I think he would genuinely bring an air of fear to some opponents who know he’s capable of real magic. Hipkiss may yet prove to shine, but he is clearly more of Johnson’s mould at present in terms of a midfield battering ram.

  5. Garnetto – I’ve been equally bemused about the Smith situation. Something doesn’t add up there. Most of the problem seems to be crap ball, but it’s not just that. There have been some passages of play where they’ve been moving forward, but the back play is consistently predictable and mostly ineffective.

    I think you’re right about coaching changes by year end, but here’s my bet – Wells and Ford will be gone. Johnno is going to be forced into making changes because the poor Autumn series will demand some sort of response (beyond the usual BS about needing time etc.). He’s not going to get rid of Smith – his appointment, and probably one that in the fullness of time will prove out – and indeed, making other changes is likely to persuade Smith to give it more time. But he inherited W & F and he can now send the message that he’s given them enough time and it just hasn’t worked out. Edwards would be top of my list for the defensive role, and I reckon we would see an improvement in defence almost immediately.

    I’m a bit puzzled as to exactly how the different coaching roles are intended to combine, but it seems that Johnno’s role should be to bring the combined visions together into one, cohesive gameplan. He’s failed at that so far (and in my view that’s a big part of the Smith situation) and I doubt he could ever be successful at it.

  6. Johnson is the problem, a living example that great players don’t often make great coaches. Sticking to Borthwick as captain when he is obviously not worth his place as a player is symptomatic. Bring back Woodward as Rob Andrews’ replacement and appoint McGeechan as head coach.

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