Hopes and Expectations

14 01 2010

Captain Terrible

Johnson clearly does not read the Compulsive Hooker. If he was a reader of this blog, which no one I know calls ‘the most influential voice in rugby today’, surely Steve Borthwick’s name would have been missing in yesterdays Elite Squad. Surely? Or perhaps not. Every single rugby pundit the length and breadth of England’s green and pleasant land, has been calling for Borthwick’s head more or less immediately after he was named captain of the England rugby team in February 2008 and this hasn’t yet affected Johnson’s thinking.  Although he wasn’t originally Johnson’s choice, the error has been compounded by his resolute defence and refusal to consider alternatives since Johnson took over for the tour to New Zealand in 2008. The only caveat in Johnson naming Borthwick is that he has not been confirmed as captain. Yet.

Before readers of this site begin to think there is a personal vendetta against the man let us give you some reasons why he should be banished to the lower divisions of club rugby.

  1. Borthwick has gone backwards in aggregate yardage in almost every match he has played since taking over as England Captain bar the New Zealand game at the tail end of 2009. This anomaly can be explained by a freak occurrence when Borthwick found himself with the ball in space and charged forward 20 yards before being brought to ground.
  2. His speciality is supposed to be in the line out where apparently he is a clever reader of the opponents throws and outwits them on England’s. The problem with this is that the England line out has rarely been secure itself in the last 2 years (although the hookers must take part of the blame) which belies the latter half of the reasoning. On opponents throws, by our reckoning, Borthwick has probably only won half a dozen against the head in 2 years of being captain with the majority coming in that New Zealand game.
  3. By selecting Borthwick, Johnson creates a larger problem in the second row. Like other positions (e.g. centre, scrum and fly half) on the field the second row is a partnership. The Bok partnership of Botha and Matfield being prime example. Botha is the hard man flying into rucks and mauls and generally getting involved in the nitty-gritty whereas Matfield is the brains in the line out and often plays almost as an extra flanker. Borthwick sadly is neither the brains or the engine room which limits options alongside him. Probably the most dynamic young lock in the country is Courtney Lawes of Northampton but due to Borthwick’s limitations he is unlikely to play.

Johnson appears to have a blind spot when selecting locks if you consider the continued selection of Louis Deacon and omission of Nick Kennedy. A partnership of Deacon and Borthwick was proved to be the least dynamic partnership in decades during the Autumn internationals yet they both retain their places. This inability to select well in this position is doubly strange given Johnson’s status as one of the greatest locks of all time.

Prop is another area in which England are struggling at the moment and unfortunately the selections of Tim Payne and Julian White are equally mystifying. Anyone who watched Dan Cole’s destruction of Tim Payne in the Leicester Wasps game a week ago (see report here) can see that Payne’s better days have long gone. Amusingly, Tim Payne’s wikipedia article sums it up perfectly. The full page can be found here.

Timothy Adam N. Payne (born 29 April 1979 in Swindon) is a rugby union footballer who plays at prop for Wasps.r.

Unusually for an international prop, he cannot scrummage very well at all, but remains in the England squad because he’s been in it before when they were desperate.

Shontayne Hape.jpg

England's 3rd Kiwi

The most notable selection in the squad is Shontayne Hape from Bath. Whilst in all honesty Hape is a name that is unfamiliar to the Compulsive Hooker, the very fact he is eligible for England seems wrong. This is a man who has played 14 times for the New Zealand Rugby League team and this as recently as 2006 against Great Britain. Hape qualifies through 6 years residency in the UK but due to his representation of New Zealand in a national sport within the last 6 years this rule needs to be looked at. This is a situation familiar to all England cricket and rugby fans and needs to be reassessed before it gets out of control.

On a positive note Johnson finally seems willing to let Matthew Tait have a run at outside centre and the call up of Chris Ashton provides legitimate competition for the Monye, Banahan, Cueto hegemony.

As you may have gathered we are not overly positive about England’s chances in the 6 Nations as the frustrations with Johnson still remain. As a player we loved him, as a coach we doubt him.

Any comments?

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