England’s shortcomings in their three Autumn Tests have been pored over at length, with a number of different reasons cited. One that keeps cropping up though is the inadequate coaching team that Martin Johnson has around him.
There’s a funny caption here somewhere…
When Johnson was appointed a year and a half ago, he was given the opportunity to clear out any dead wood and start again. He chose to stick with the existing team however, with the addition of the widely-acclaimed Brian Smith as the attacking coach. John Wells, the forwards coach, and Mike Ford, the defence coach had already been in the job for a year or more without producing results, and were lucky to keep their jobs.
Increasingly, Johnno’s decision is looking more and more dubious, despite my inclination to believe every word that comes out of the (playing) legend’s mouth. His recent insistence that ‘they’ve been brilliant’ is more than enough to raise an eyebrow though, considering the quality of rugby that England have produced in recent weeks.
Whereas Clive Woodward, Andy Robinson and Brian Ashton all had the comfort of blaming the shortage of time with players, Rob Andrew’s agreement with the Premiership clubs ensures that Johnno’s staff have ample time with the squad. So what have they been doing in training for the last month to produce such dross on the pitch?
For me, Wells appears to be most at risk, although Brian Smith’s attacking force managed to produce just one try in three matches, Jon Callard’s kicking tactics weren’t hugely impressive and Ford would be nowhere near the elite squad if Shaun Edwards hadn’t been snapped up by Wales. Although Wells is Johnno’s old mate, England’s pack has been dire and he’s had more than enough time to prove his worth without delivering.
The lack of quick ball has stifled England yet again, and the finger of blame must be pointed at the pack – usually an area of strength for English sides, but the current lumps seem unable to hit a ruck with any kind of force, or even make half a yard over the gain line with the ball in hand. Do they really practise the move that sees the scrum-half pass to a static forward two yards away from the previous breakdown?
As forwards coach, Wells also has a say in selection, and so must be partly responsible for sending out the uninspiring second row combination of Steve Borthwick and Louis Deacon twice in a row. So what needs to change?
Edwards is probably off limits unless the RFU can find a pot of money, and so I’d like to see Graham Rowntree promoted from set-piece coach to forwards coach. His experience with the Lions working alongside Edwards and Warren Gatland should stand him in good stead, and it’s not such a major change that might put even more pressure on Andrew and Johnson.
If there are financial or political reasons for not getting rid of Wells, why not implement an All Black-esque coaching hokey-cokey? That way, Rowntree could step up without any damaging headlines about England in chaos with yet more changes of personnel, whilst Wells could perhaps take over the set-piece, or maybe just put him in charge of water bottles, or holding the bags during training.
A minor tweak to the setup might be all that’s required – what do you think?