Throw the leaked World Cup reports away

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

23 thoughts on “Throw the leaked World Cup reports away

  1. I don’t think that you will find many people on this blog disagreeing. Most of what you say has already been voiced on these pages several times.

    I think that we have more chance of finding a centre than we do of finding an openside though. I hope that I am proved wrong as the latter positionis now one of the most pivotal on a rugby pitch.

    1. It seems to me that the problem with the missing open-side is that, after the retirement of Neil Back, the England management decided that open-side is not a specialist position and can be filled by any flanker – and that the flanker should be a big unit

      Hence the shoe-horning of players like Haskell or Moody into a position that they are not particularly good at.

      (this is also partly due to their insistence on playing Croft at blind-side whether or not he is actually playing well – and I for one, cannot think of a single England game where he has shone)

      We have seen specialist open-sides who were very good but were ignored for the above reasons. Will Skinner and Steffon Armitage are the two who particularly spring to mind

      Either of these two, for example, could have been taken into the England fold and developed into good international open-sides, even if they would never be the next Pocock or McCaw

      Will Skinner’s treatment was particularly strange. One moment captain of the Saxons, the next season he’s not even picked for the team, despite still playing very well with Quins

      1. Hmmm I have to say that Steffon Armitage had his chances and looked OK playing for England but never more than that. I wasn’t convinced. Skinner hasn’t had a chance. Its impossible to tell without someone playing on the big stage because many shine in the premiership who then look very ordinary when stepping up. Can’t see anyone shouting out week in week out saying pick me for openside at the moment.

        I do agree with you as to the coaches who have essentially been putting a square peg into a round hole at openside, but I think part of that is because we don’t have the 7’s to play there at the moment.

        The RFU should have seen this problem coming and have done something about it, i.e. promoting development of 7’s in the younger age groups. Personally, I’m not aware of this happening. Sadly, not that I’m particularly surprised.

        1. I think the lack of development can be put down to the attitude I described in my post

          Why develop specialist open-sides when you don’t believe that it needs to be a specialist position and you’d rather have a lump like Haskell playing there?

          Furthermore, If you’re a player coming up through the junior ranks and you see players like Armitage and Skinner being ignored (despite what you have said, the three caps that Armitage won was not enough for him to be judged on) and gym bunnies like Haskell being inexplicably chosen, which route are you going to choose?

          If the England management really believed that a specialist open-side was a requirement, Andy Hazell would have won far more caps and Hendre Fourie would have been in the starting squad as soon as he was available

          (BTW on the lack of young open-sides, Luke Wallace at Quins may be a good prospect for a few years hence)

          1. To be fair with Armitage, I did say that I wasn’t convinced, not that he should never play for England again. Can’t really disagree with anything else you’ve said!

  2. England may not have World Class players on current form but I don’t think it would take much for Croft, Youngs, Wood, Foden and Lawes to fit the bill in a team that is coached properly.

    I hope this is the end of Deacon, Easter, Wilkinson, Tindall, Hape, Cueto and Armitage

    1. I disagree. I think that we do have a number of world class players and also some seriously talented youngsters waiting to come into the team. With good coaching, I think that England has a bright future. How about Foden, Ashton, Sharples, Tuilagi, Farrell, Flood, Youngs as a backline. With the exception of a 7, I think that we also have a pack to take on most opposition, so despite the ongoing carnage, I’m pretty optomistic! Hopefully this isn’t misplaced.

  3. Right on the button, Lee. If they harness the skilled young players available they will be right on top very quickly.

  4. I agree that the talent is there. How about the below for a young team to be developed aiming at 2015 and beyond

    Narraway (8 is definitely an issue. I wish Tom Guest would stop getting injured)

    There would also be players like Gray, Dickson, Robson, Wade, Fearns, Corbisiero, Trinder, Turner-Hall, Brown, Gaskell, 12Trees, Gibson, Clegg, Ford, Vunipola, Daly, Wallace, etc, etc waiting on the sidelines

    I just hope that the exposure of the rot at the heart of the RFU and the england team has come in time for it to be cleaned out and for the right people to be introduced who candevelop these players into the talents thet could be

  5. In what way have th english media contributed to the debacle- regularly tipping this player and that player as a “great ” player after a few premiership sorties. The premiership is littered with players who had expectation of greatness foisted upon them prematurely.

    1. I think that we’re the mugs for believing the press! Also it must be remembered that probably 80% or so of the players who look good week in and week out at premiership level won’t be able to make the step up to international level, due to a variety of reasons like size, speed, rugby intelligence, bad luck or possibly better players in front of them to name a couple.

  6. I can think of two out and out 7’s straight away who have never even been given a chance. Dave Seymour and Andy Saull. Saull is usually on the bench for Sarries, but is potentially, given the chance an excellent choice. Seymour is getting plenty of time at Sale at the mo, and is playing very well. The fact that neither of them have been given even the slightest opportunity is a little sad really. Steffon Armitage is still worth another go. Personally I would rather see any of these than Fourie. Another big lump who is nearly over the hill before he’s had a real chance.

    As for the centre problem. Greenwood will probably never be matched. But the emergence of Tuilagi, and now Farrell, Trinder, Twelvetrees, Barritt etc etc, we should not have a problem there, as long as the coaches actually realise the talent is there, and stop picking big trundling centres who can’t even punch a hole in a paper bag. Just because you’e 6’4″ plus and weigh 17 stone, it doesn’t mean you should be an automatic choice.

    Stuart Lancaster knows some of these younger players, and I feel confident he will bring these guys into the team, and lead them into the Six Nations tournament with the enthusiasm and ability expected of an England team.

    1. I do agree that Lancaster is an excellent (if fortuitous) choice given that he knows what young talent we have. I did think that Saull was the coming player at one time and would be interested to see him (or as you say any genuine openside) given a chance. Don’t think Fourie did anything with his chance.

      Wonder what the sizes of the centres at the RWC for the main nations was? Maybe that could be a good blog? What is the ideal shape and size for a modern centre and what skills do they need or maybe what combination of skills does a pair of centres need? There’s a challenge!

  7. I think a lot of people have reacted negatively. I see a lot of reports of Johnson’s 50% record with England. What if we forget the first two years where Johnson was getting to grips with coaching and look at the last year?
    A win over Australia, losses to NZ, SA and Ireland, and Wales in a friendly. So, in 8 games, Johnson had won 6/9 games – including friendlies 8/12. That’s a 75% win ratio. 18 months ago, England won only 2 games in the 6N. These are the signs of progress.

    I’m not going to pretend the World Cup was ideal, but it’s a little overdramatic talking about England’s 1/4 final exit. In the run up to the RWC, I saw a potential exit for England at the 1/4 final with France. Why? Because France are a good side and I wouldn’t guarantee any side a win over them. Am I shocked that England lost to France? disappointed yes, shocked, no. England could have won that match and that’s how I’d expect any 1/4 final to be. It was not a 1 sided drubbing.

    Close wins over Argentina and Scotland. Are we forgetting that 18 months ago, Scotland drew with England? and have in recent history gotten wins over Australia and South Africa? Perhaps that Argentina managed to beat England 3 years ago and 4 years ago pulled off a double win over France in their own World Cup?

    I think that criticising all of the players is a bit harsh and over reactionary. None of them worth a 2003 Jersey? Ashton and Cueto, when they got ball were good. Youngs, when Wilkinson is not sitting 30 ft deep, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Foden, I think England have a capable side and needed more direction. The improvement though shown by England in the last 18 months was for me an indicator that this team was on the right track. Yes, things needed sorting and improving, no team is perfect, not even NZ. To get shot of the head coach, all the sub coaches, half the RFU and all of the players is a bit extreme though

    1. I think that the head coach resigned didn’t he! No one got rid of him and actually I think that many people (myself included) wanted him retained. I did feel that a change of at least 3 of the coaches was probably warranted!

      1. I don’t think he was given much choice and there is still the question of whether he jumped or whether he was helped. The point is, a lot of what I’m hearing is that England were terrible in the run up to the world cup, but what I saw was a vast improvement that I felt was likely to continue. Naturally, the way for it to continue would be to move around some of the coaching staff, but the implication in a lot of these articles and a lot of the opinion floating around is that Johnson was a terrible coach, none of the players are worth considering and all of the sub coaches (with the exception of Rowntree) are worth the oxygen they breathe. I simply think that this is an overreaction to a gradually improving England side.

        1. Before all of this blew up, I’d say that the comments on these pages were about 60/40 in favour of keeping Johnno, but about 95/5 to having a clear out of several of the coaches and some of the disappointing older players, although the cull of players will inevitably occur naturally. I think that I only saw support for our younger players. I would suggest that the comments that have come out since all this blew up haven’t really been much different, with the exception of Ford getting more flak. Personally I’d be happy to keep him.

    2. If you really want to argue in support of Johnson using results, then you should at least focus on games against top 5 or 6 opposition. I see Smith was quoting a tries for/against statistic to demonstrate how his attacking input had benefited the team. But how many of those tries scored were against garbage opposition (especially in the RWC)?

      The reality is that the record against the teams in the world with which we want to be compared (tri-nations plus Fra, Ire and Wa) is disappointing. And moreover, the most recent performances tend to suggest that we were going backwards not forwards.

      1. Disappointing yes, no disagreement there. But my point is not about the number of wins, but the general improvement. Games against the tri-nations have gone from 40 point drubbings to close losses and a couple of wins over Australia. They’ve gone in the space of a year from only achieving wins over Wales and Italy to beating all but one of the 6N opposition.

        I’m not supporting the notion that Johnson and the coaches are performing well, but I think signs of improvement were there. There’s a great deal of criticism of coaches that were showing improvement and players that I think are very good, but need some changes to improve.

  8. My England team would be the following:

    1. Corbisero
    2. Hartley
    3. Cole
    4. Lawes
    5. Attwood
    6. Croft (c)
    7. Wood
    8. Haskell

    9. Youngs
    10. Flood
    11. Wade
    12. Barritt
    13. Tuilagi
    14. Ashton
    15. Foden

    16. Stevens
    17. Webber
    18. Palmer
    19. Robshaw
    20. Care
    21. Farrell
    22. Armitage

    1. problems 1-100, Haskell is not a number 8. He does not control the ball well at the base of the scrum when England are going forward and it’s even more disastrous when going backward. This is however solved by the fact that he no longer qualifies for England while he’s in Japan. England have number 8s available. Narraway, Crane (when he’s fit), Waldrom, to name a few.

      Problem 101. Wood isn’t a 7. I think he will make good backrow cover and depending on form, possibly even fight Crofty for 6, but he’s not a 7. Again, England have lots of unused options in that respect, Fourie and S. Armitage were looking good there.

      102. Wade is as Wade does. Much like Tom Varndell he runs quickly and well in open space. However, against a decent tackler (or any tackler) he’s going to get maimed. Too small, no power. He also offers nothing in defence. Other players are there, Miles Benjamin is looking fantastic and generally much more useful than Wade. He looked great for Saxons and Worcester, look forward to seeing him move up.

      103. Matt Stevens cannot scrummage. Penalty after penalty at the world cup. I watched him closely, even the ones where he wasn’t penalised he was boring in. He really needs to do something consistent to convince me he can play in an England shirt. The last thing you want is to bring on a sub late and start conceding penalties.

      104-204. Armitage needs to be shot. He does not drift in defence, he does not run good supporting lines in attack, he does not step in and leaves himself on the touch line and he is a damned liability when it comes to dangerous play.

      1. Agree re Haskell. Let Wood and Croft fight it out for 6, with the other on the bench. No Fourie though, he’s not the future.

        Agree about Wade – anyone remember Phil Christophers! Exactly – electric in the premiership but no Shane Williams! Not sure Sharples helped his cause this weekend by showcasing his kicking talents!!!

        However Armitage and Stevens are useful bench warmers IMO, although Armitage really needs to sort out some control issues. You don’t want to play international rugby with 14 men.

  9. Reference why we have not produced a world class centre since Will Greenwood. In Devon, like I presume most counties we have a RFU sponsored ‘School of Excellence’ where the selection criteria seems to be 1) Physique 2) Strength 3) Size etc etc small 13-15 year olds are not considered if they do not fit this criteria. Also when these youngsters come into senior rugby the majority of there time seems to be channelled into gym sessions and video analysis. Some will play less than 8 games in a season. How do you learn how to beat a drift or rush defence, how do you learn how to execute a 3 on 2 etc I suggest you do so by actually playing the game. Will Greenwood played a lot of games for Preston GH 3rds he was a tall skinny lad who nowadays would probably not be considered physically strong enough to be in a ‘School of Excellence’ Skils are the key, Strength can be added at a later stage, our skill levels at senior level are simply not good enough. PS Shane Williams would probably be considered too small for any premiership academy now!!!!


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