Six Nations Thoughts – England

26 01 2010

When beginning this piece, we found ourselves unsure of how to begin. There seemed to be so many frustrations and a veritable litany of complaints about the current England team and coaching staff, that it is almost too overwhelming for an England fan to write about. With this in mind we are going to start with the positives and see how it goes from there….

When compared to the Autumn internationals, where England were missing almost an entire first team due to injury, things have improved dramatically. The extraordinary lack of props in November has partially been resolved due to players coming back from injury and the emergence of one or two others. Dan Cole of Leicester has been in sparkling form in what is virtually his debut season and is surely a man for the future. The only slight cloud that remains here is the continuing absence of Andrew Sheridan. Matt Mullan of Worcester has also been promoted from the Saxons squad which seems to indicate that Johnson is firmly looking to the future.

Nick Easter’s return to the squad provides a welcome sober head to the side. Easter has never been the quickest or most dynamic player on his feet but he provides a much needed solidity and can be relied upon to make the hard yards. Unfortunately Tom Croft’s injury has deprived Johnson of his services until the second half of the tournament although it is doubtful that he would have started. So dynamic for the Lions, Crofts open field game has never been suited to an England under Johnson who are intent on keeping it tight and rarely threaten the wide open spaces. It is instructive to think that the only time Johnson’s England has broken the shackles (against France last year) Croft was at the forefront of all that was good.

Here at the Compulsive Hooker we have covered the second row conundrum and Johnson’s predilection for Borthwick before so we won’t go into details (but you can find our rant here). Suffice to say that we would like to see a Shaw – Lawes combination which would combine the best of the old and the new, conveniently forgetting the mediocrity in the middle. With the announcement last night that Johnson is to retain Borthwick as captain this will clearly not happen although you have to hope that Borthwick isn’t immune from a 60th minute substitution just because he is skipper.

In the backs Flutey’s return means an increased ability in attack once more. The Compulsive Hooker’s admiration for Wilkinson is well documented and we hope that the return of Flutey will help him stand flatter. The real key to this of course is making sure that England are playing on the front foot and not trying to create from behind a retreating pack. With Armitage surely returning at 15 and the promise of Ashton on the wings, suddenly the back line appear to be more of a threat. Scrum half will be interesting and we would like to see Ben Youngs of Leicester given a run out at some point. Foden, eternally the unlucky man in Johnson’s squads, appears to be the one to miss out again although perhaps his continued retention will eventually get him some game time. A more instinctive attacking English talent there probably isn’t so a chance is overdue.

As mentioned yesterday England do appear to suffer when compared with the talents on offer in Ireland and France although undoubtedly there is a strong core running through the side. With the resources available to England both on and off the pitch there is no excuse for them not to be challenging for honours year in year out. Something has gone wrong though over the last 6 or 7 years and for our money, Johnson is not the man for the job. To justify his retention as Team Manager, England need to finish at least 2nd in our eyes. Anything less and England will have gone backward.

Prediction: 3rd. The fixture list is kind to England with two easy (in theory anyway) away games to Scotland and Italy and only one tricky one (France). England though will probably also lose to Ireland so a middling campaign only with two losses is our prediction.

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4 responses

26 01 2010
George Buck

I think our problem lies with our front five. England have always been solid in this department. Since the last world cup, we haven’t had the right combinations up front. In rugby, in order to look remotely dangerous you need good first phase possession. Unlike other sports (take football, hockey, aussie rules), you can pass the ball forward, in rugby you can only pass sideways or backwards. You can obviously kick it, but there is only one player really challenging in defense. With average teams (like England have recently been) we see this depressing tennis-style rugby, where we hanging back deep and the ball is being kicked back and forth. Yes, in 2003 we had excellent backs to finish off moves, but this was only due to the likes of Johnson, Vickery (in his prime), Thomson et al dominating up front. Look at how the forwards completely stuffed Australia up front in the 2003 World Cup!
You’d think Johno (with Rowntree) would be an expert in this department, but he has not been adventurous enough for me, sticking with the old faces – Julian White (36/37 years old – thank God he’s injured), Vickery (losing it), Tim Payne. I simply can’t believe that he has retained Borthwick as Captain – it is an absolute joke! The collective amount of yards he must have made in all the Autumn internationals must have been about 10! He is a bit of a wet f*rt in my opinion and too much of a ‘nice guy’. If he had some ‘presence’ or a ‘good rugby brain’ there might be some cause for argument. He doesn’t show any of this on the field and certainly not off the field in interviews. I struggle to be as passionate as I used to be when I see him as the face of english rugby!
Johnson needs to be more gutsy in his selections for the Six Nations 2009. The new faces that have been added to the squad suggests that this will be the case. If he tries ‘new combinations’ like Ian Mcgeechan did so well on the Lions, I will be more empathetic. If not, he has to go i’m afraid.
Come on Johnson, step up to the plate man and do what you do best! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

26 01 2010
Bradders

Agreed on all your saying.

One other thing is that I hope he doesn’t pick Banahan. Too lumbering and not quick when it counts – over the first 10 yards.

28 01 2010
Si

Agree with both of you wise men, but my MAJOR gripe is the lack of leadership. Borthwick simply HAS to go. For my money, Haskell needs to be given the captain’s armband, or at a pinch Croft. Haskell was one of the few players who actually got some go-forward over the Autumn and can be consistently talking and knocking heads together when England are (frequently) stood under their own posts. He may be young, but he needs to be given the time to bring the team together before the WC. Without a leader that commands authority and actually LEADS BY EXAMPLE (take note, Stevey B), England will continue to lack direction and belief. I really think that this is the largest hurdle we face as a team – the skill levels amongst the English players are not substantially lower than other nations, but we need a run of “W”s in the results column, whether they be ugly, 1 point sneak homes and 30-40 point stuffings to bring the players and supporters to life and instill the Fortress Twickenham mentality that began with Clive Woodward from 2002 through 2003. The difference between SH teams and England is confidence, bordering on arrogance. The prime example of how this can be harnessed is the Lions. A scratch team with minimal time together and relatively fatigued players were given the freedom to play with expression, pace and confidence by McGeechan and his team. Obviously the expansive style doesn’t suit England at the moment and would be unhepful for them to try to crowbar themselves into a type of play that they’re not comfortable with. Instead, emphasise practice of the basic, simple skill sets, play with patience, discipline and precision and please, please pick a new leader. 4 wins from 5 and 1st or 2nd place in the 6N could be just the tonic to pick a faltering team up and set them on the path to the WC.

28 01 2010
Bradders

The crazy thing is – it all seems so obvious to us but Johnson doesn’t seem to see it, or if he does ignores it!

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