Rotten to the core. Inadequate coaching. Players more focused on money than the rugby. An investigation by an external firm into a serious breach of confidentiality. All rather embarrassing as we read through the selection of quotes being leaked into the media this week.
Can I, however, suggest that the RFU (and, by the RFU, I mean those members who will be staying on when this shambles unravels) tear up the three leaked reports and pretend they never happened. Then can I suggest that they and, perhaps all of us, watch the video of that first 40 minutes against France in the World Cup quarter final. Trust me. I was there at Eden Park and, sitting directly behind England, had the perfect view of players running in front of ball carriers, woeful passing, poor execution and no obvious strategy. I do not need to read a series of quotes, no doubt taken out of context and provided on a confidential basis, to tell me that all was not right in the England camp. That first half was all the evidence you need to see that England had no tactical structure, lacked the necessary skills, had picked several players who were no longer up to the job and had been poorly coached for months.
First some perspective. England could have been coached by Graham Henry, with Nick Mallett and Jake White as his assistants, Clive Woodward overseeing the whole operation and Shaun Edwards as the water carrier and they still would not have won the World Cup. Even if they had stayed in their hotels and remained sober as judges. Or if by some remarkable fate they had, it would stand alongside any as one of the great sporting injustices. The reality is that England deserved to lose to both Argentina and Scotland in the group stage. On any reckoning, not one of the current first team would have got in the 2003 World Cup winning team and I can only make a case for Ben Youngs (when fit) for inclusion in the winning 2011 All Blacks team.
Secondly, the various off the field incidents are magnified because England were so poor on the pitch. If Mike Tindall should have been sent home from the tournament then so could each of the All Blacks, Zac Guildford, Cory Jane and Israel Dagg, all of whom were reported as being involved in off-field incidents. The difference? Well it hardly needs saying. Dagg, for instance, was one of the players of the tournament.
Thirdly, much has been made about the “£35,000” quote. Personally, I could not care less if players are well remunerated. Welcome to the professional era. Careers are short and like us, rugby players have mortgages and in some cases families. I am sure we have all made comments in the work place, which when taken out of context, might not have been appropriate at the time, particularly after a disappointment. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are reportedly remunerated out of all proportion to the remaining All Blacks due to their NZRU contracts and commercial endorsements. I do not see many Kiwis’ complaining with their team having had an 85% winning ratio for several years and now the World Cup.
Frankly, I am more embarrassed by the abject handling skills of many of our players, by the fact that Tindall got anywhere near the 2011 team and why we are widely acknowledged as playing the worst rugby of the leading nations. We should be ashamed that as the richest union and with the most players, we have not produced a centre of international quality since Will Greenwood and that we appear not to have one high class specialist openside flanker playing in the Premiership. We stand alongside New Zealand at all junior levels up to the under 21s. What happens to all the players?
Good luck to whoever comes in as new head coach. He will initially have to deal with a mess above and below him. Let’s hope whoever it is, that he, and his new coaching staff around him, considers those players who have the necessary handling skills to succeed at international level, who have the right balance of power and athleticism. Players who train hard and understand the importance of discipline on the pitch during tight test matches. Perhaps, most importantly, let us hope that those players in form are rewarded by keeping their places and are coached into world class players (of which England currently has none) all whilst playing within a consistent playing strategy. I suggest he starts by picking a captain who will play every game, is a leader and deserves his spot in the team.
Do that, and England might get up to a 75% winning ratio, where they should be, and maybe a shot at the next World Cup. As for those arrogant “senior players” (whoever they were), ridiculing younger players for training too hard. This will never be an issue again as they will no longer be good enough to get in the squad, nor therefore the chance to lose that £35,000.
by Lee Bagshaw