Phil Vickery: “In Cardiff we will find out a lot about this England team”

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“Have you been missold PPI?” As I reach to put the phone down, annoyed that some call centre or other has rung me as I’m waiting for the call from Phil Vickery, I suddenly realise the voice has a distinct West Country twang to it. “Er.. what?” I say. “Just kidding mate, it’s Phil here,” comes the response.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t expected the man known as the Raging Bull on the pitch to open with a joke. As he chuckles down the line at his own genius (I was laughing too, to be fair), any nerves I had dissipate and a relaxed tone is set for the interview – just as it should be.

After some gentle smalltalk about Gloucester being better than London, and Bath being ‘London by the sea’, we get onto more serious matters: England and the Six Nations. How impressed has the former captain of the national side been with them so far? “It’s been good fun, hasn’t it? All the talk was about how would they back up that New Zealand performance, and I think it’s just been great to watch. They made a great start, and then backed it up with a pretty spectacular victory over in Ireland, which as a spectacle wasn’t great, but a win at the Aviva Stadium… goodness me.”

France next, and Les Bleus were vanquished from Twickenham with relative ease. “They came to Twickenham with nothing to lose, players were finally picked in the right positions, and England had to dig in and really fight for that victory. It was a great victory in the end.” Another step down the road to – whisper it quietly – the Grand Slam. But is it too early for talk of that? “They’re in with a shout, but whether or not they’ll do it, I don’t know. They’ve got everything they need to do it, I think the question is now just whether they can do it on the day.”

vickeryengVickery cites the Italy match as quite a speed bump, but it would certainly be the shock of the Six Nations if England didn’t record a fairly comfortable win. If that is the case, everything will be set up for one of the biggest games in the Northern Hemisphere for quite some years. “Goodness me, what Cardiff’s going to be like in two weeks’ time – I dread to think, it will just be phenomenal. All that rugby history, the camaraderie, the hatred, the passion – I just hope that England get it right there. We will find out a lot about this England team. It’s about the only time I wish I could still play rugby.”

When asked who in particular has impressed him in this England setup, Vickery proceeds to reel off pretty much the entire team. One man who does not feature, however, is someone who has been making headlines for the wrong reasons recently. “I’ve said this about Chris Ashton for the last twelve months: what’s he done? For me, he hasn’t moved on since he splashed onto the scene. There’ve been opportunities that he’s had, both in defence and in attack, that I believe he hasn’t taken. I don’t believe he’s moved on like this England team have moved on. I’m not saying he’s not a good player… he’s just been given a lot more latitude than a lot of players – think of poor Charlie Sharples, who was playing well, comes in and gets an opportunity, doesn’t play that well and gets dropped.”

Not sitting on the fence on this issue, then. “I just think it seems to be one rule for one and one rule for another when it comes to Chris Ashton,” he says. Indeed when you look at the Ashton dilemma in the context of someone like Sharples, or Strettle, who have both been dropped after significantly fewer poor performances, it does seem astounding that Ashton is still there. No other player has been allowed such leeway by Lancaster and, as an article earlier in the week pointed out, it’s not like there aren’t alternatives. “I struggle to justify why he’s in the team, when you’ve got guys like Wade at Wasps scoring tries on a sixpence and May at Gloucester who seems to be rampant and on form.”

Our conversation then turns to the small matter of the looming Lions tour. Vickery went on two Lions tours, and as such he is well-placed to comment on the unique flavour it gives to a season. Does it change the way players feel and act during the Six Nations, knowing what’s just around the corner? “If you start looking too far ahead, things come crashing down. It’s a wonderful thing, but the minute you start thinking about that it’s taken away from you. It’s something that’s bestowed upon you. And you talk about six months being a long time in rugby; well I tell you what, two weeks in the Six Nations can see things change very quickly.”

What of the current crop? Who does he think will be on the tour? “They have a head coach in Warren Gatland who will not be afraid to make big calls – if you’re good enough, and you’re showing him what he wants to see, then you’ll go.” Of course, one of the biggest selection debates will surround the front row, given the importance of this area of the modern game. “At the moment I think Dan Cole would be a starter,” he says. “I’d love to see Adam Jones getting back to where he was, but since the last Lions tour he’s had so many injuries I don’t think he’s put together enough consistency. Hooker’s a tough one, because I still don’t see anyone really sticking their hand up. And if I’d had to pick a prop who I’d want to play with, and who was a bastard to play against, that would have to be Cian Healy.”

So there you have it. Cole and Healy to prop for the Lions, with hooker still anyone’s guess. Of course as Vickery says, two weeks or six months – however you cut it – there is an awful lot of rugby to be played. Things will change, of that there is no doubt, but for now we should just enjoy the unpredictability.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

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16 thoughts on “Phil Vickery: “In Cardiff we will find out a lot about this England team”

  1. Never really liked Vickery as a player, I was thought he was way past his best by the time it came to him captaining England, plus he always gave away stupid penalties. He doesn’t rate Ashton, fair enough, but Ashton isn’t even the worst player in the squad considering England have the abomination that is Courtney Lawes!

    1. Not sure Abomination is fair. He’s played reasonably for much of his time in an England 2nd row shirt (the odd blip apart), but a 6 he definitely aint. However that was SL’s fault not Cl’s.

      1. Lawes is a potentially world class lock, but an average back rower. If you watch the premiership regularly you’ll know his engine is phenomenal, his offloading is superb, his tackling is usually outstanding, and he has the pace of an open side. It’s not his fault he was played out of position. It wasn’t so long ago we had Deacon and Borthwick. Launchbury and Lawes will be our post 2015 second row, guaranteed.

  2. It’s true that Lawes played really poorly against France but he should never have been picked at six and has missed a lot of game time through injury.He still has a lot of potential and can hopefully develop.The same can be said for Ashton,except he has been given a second chance time and time again.His strike rate isn’t as impressive as it might appear when the teams are taken into consideration and his defence is totally impotent.Until he has actually done something I wish he’d leave out all the “Ash Splash” nonsense.

  3. Guys this debate is simple ,we had a blindside at 8,another at 7, and a lock at blindside,was never going to work,but Lancaster has done what Jonno couldn’t bring the team together so ill happily forgive a few failed experiments

  4. This debate is centred on Ashton and how Vickery questions what makes his selection bullet proof?

    1. Sorry, can’t resist bashing Courtney Lawes. But anyway I’ve never had the impression Ashton is the first name on the team sheet no questions asked. Just don’t think anybody merits replacing him….yet.

  5. It’s a shame that other, more explosive, inventive wingers have not yet replaced Ashton. He often lets down the rest of England’s backs. Why doesn’t Lancaster just make the change and drop Ashton, what is the point in him still being there?

  6. I think, based on what happened over the last year, that Lancaster wants to give players who he has identified as having the necessary qualities to suceed the space to come into form.

    Ashton was a very dangerous winger for the 2 years (?) before Lancaster came into the job, so we know he has that capability, but has backslid, and Lancaster has put him on notice but isn’t being knee-jerk.

    And by giving him remedial tackling classes he’s signalling that he wants Ashton to suceed.

    Come the summer tour, with all the Lions absent, people like Wade and May will come in to the party and Lancaster will see them close up for a good amount of time, and I think he’ll make the decision then.

    I’m content for him to give players the opportunity to make good their deficiencies before he casts them off.

  7. I he makes the case against Ashton very well.
    There are players who have been dropped for playing no worse than he has. To be honest I think putting him under some pressure would be great for his form.
    You could do this by moving Brown to FB, and bringing in someone like Wade onto the other wing. This allows us to see Wade, and to see whether having a good running full back brings Ashton back into the game (as he was when playing with Foden).

  8. Its an interesting one because England dont have two great wingers atm whilst the rest of the team looks pretty strong.

    Mike Brown has done well there but he is only filling in.

    I feel that with the amount of players England have to choose from there really shouldnt be anyone playing out of position.

    A lot of wingers are criticised for their defence but the ones who are given the opportunites are those that make up for it in attack. Look at Tim Visser for example.

    Wade is regularly criticised for his defence but he offers a lot more than Ashton in attack atm.

    So it doesnt add up. Ashtons defence is weak and isnt making up for it in attack, therefore he is not offering much.

    A back three of Goode, Wade and maybe Strettle who is a bit more reliable in defence looks like a much stronger back three than the current one.

    1. The way Ashton is going, I would prefer play anyone on the wing. Agree with you that his defence is poor, and with bringing no attacking flair to the party he isn’t making up for it. Not only is brown solid defensively, but he makes good yards. I agree that people probably shouldn’t play out of position, but when we have such quality at 15 it seems a waste, especially when there is a lack of wings in the EPS.

      English rugby seems to have great depth at 15, and we seem to be getting pretty decent depth at 13 and even 12.

      15’s – Goode, brown, foden, tait, miller, abendanon, Chisholm, Lindsay-Hague, homer, and more I have forgotten (not to mention armitage in France)
      13’s – tuilagi, tomkins, Joseph, daly, g. Armitage, banahan, trinder, Lowe, hopper
      12’s – barritt, twelvetrees, eastmond, Allen, turner-hall, waldock

      And although we do have lots of wingers, they do not seem to be complete footballers. I don’t understand why England don’t look to people like tait to shift to the wing. He has pace, is a good finisher and is extremely experienced. Similarly guys like JJ and daly will spend their lives in line behind tuilagi or the fullbacks. It’s nice to see Jonny may has started playing wing exclusively, as he used to play a fair bit at 15 and even centre.

      the lists go on! I have probably missed plenty of names. But we need to be getting our top young players either up to scratch, or playing in other positions so they are not in the shadows of established players playing well.

  9. Also defending on the wing is no easy job.

    Having played there at a reasonably high level you can regularly find yourself stranded on your own which is more often than not the midfields fault.

    However, straight up missed tackles are unacceptable.

  10. Regarding the England team, I think Phil’s comments about most of them putting their hand up and performing are valid. They are youthful, full of passion, and belief! They believe in themselves and each other, their recent results and responses to opposition has proven that.

    As a Kiwi, I didn’t particularly enjoy the recent victory over the ABs, but I did admire the way the young English team, stood up, accepted the challenge and responded to the second half AB onslaught. Most of the rugby world thought…”Here we go…”. However, they didn’t. How important was their response to this in building their team environment?Their loss to South Africa came down to a chance opportunity. Within the 6 Nations, they have been dominant, with only the French giving them a real test for 60 minutes of the game!

    They (England) have level-headed players in key positions who are consistently performing at International level, Farrell is just one example.

    Wales, of which I am a big fan of, have underperformed and no doubt they will put their hand to that fact. What has changed for Wales since the RWC to make them consistently underperform? Do they have enough belief to pull-off and upset victory over England?

    So, with Italy this weekend and Wales after that, can England keep their focus? Can they ignore the press, blogs and arm-chair experts (like myself)? Can they maintain that mental edge that has made them the Northern Hemisphere team to beat?v I think so but time will tell!

  11. As a Welshman it kills me to even think of complementing England’s rugby team….. But I can’t hide from the fact that they ate the team to beat after an all impressive win over the current world champions New Zealand and carrying that momentum into this six nations is not an easy thing to do by any means but they’re doing it and in style. Robshaw has really stepped up to the role of captaincy and showed the world not to mention Gatland that he’s a real contender for the lions captaincy. The only issue I have is that how long are us the other nations gonna have to hear about England coming off the back of beating the all blacks to win a possible grand slam?? Im still hearing about the 2003 world cup!! It was a decade ago get over it wales have won 3 grand slams since then, we get on with it and look to the next tournament.

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