England’s World Cup hopefuls began their training in the Algarve today after a gruelling few days PT with the Royal Marines. Ashton has 6 weeks to mould his merry men into mean machines before he has to name his final 30-man squad.
The head coach threw a curveball at his team by sending them to train with the Marines, a tactic also employed by Sir Clive Woodward during his tenure. Woodward claimed that the Marines had advised him on squad selection by identifying ‘energy-sappers’ that had too much negativity around them. He wanted players with positive mentalities only, rather than include one or two ‘bad eggs’ that would bring everyone else down.
It may be that Ashton has received the same advice this year, and perhaps he will reveal all when he makes his final selection, but in my view he has a bigger problem on his hands – it is all very well picking 30 ‘energisers’, but you need players that can run, catch, pass and tackle. Unfortunately, there aren’t many English players who seem to be international standard at all of those basic skills.
The England management team should be using the time in Portugal to develop and hone the basic skills of a rugby player. Too often in recent seasons have we seen passes behind the player, squandered overlaps and simple missed tackles. Andy Robinson blamed the lack of time with the players – Ashton has no such excuse now, with the rest of the summer at his disposal.
The opportunity should also be taken to improve fitness levels in the team, learning from the success of 2003. England seemed to be the fittest team in the competition, despite the derisory chants of Dad’s Army by the whingeing Australians. Down at half-time against Samoa, England’s superior fitness allowed them to absorb the attack, and then race away at the end. It was the same story against the Welsh, and everyone knows what happened in the final.
So Brian, forget about the subconscious states of mind and go back to basics. If England can sharpen up their basic skills and arrive in France as one of the fittest teams, they will be competitive. This will allow them not only to maintain their defensive patterns, but also to sustain a challenge at the breakdown – an area where they must compete in order to live with the All Blacks and the Springboks.