Borthwick Dropped – Hallelujah!

2 07 2010

Finally! Martin Johnson has seen the light. Steve Borthwick, erstwhile England captain and Johnson favourite, has been dropped from the 32 man ‘Elite Squad’. Albeit this is only as far as the Saxons squad where in all likelihood he will sit until someone gets injured (which in the modern age they are sure to do) and then return to thwart our joy at this news. Perhaps due to the emergence of Attwood and Lawes, Johnson has reluctantly acknowledged what we all know to be the truth and dropped him. We won’t be entirely happy until he has been dropped altogether from the Saxons squad as well, yet it is a good start!

Typical of Johnson’s selections in the past it is not totally free of controversy with Olly Barkley, the leading man in Baths mid season renaissance, being left out of both the Elite and the Saxons squad. To say that Barkley is not in the top 64 players in the country seems extraordinary but there we have it. Matthew Tait is also another that misses out on selection for the senior squad but, unlike Barkley, is selected for the Saxons. This is a further selection call that we feel Johnson has right as Tait was spectacularly ineffective during the recent tour of the Antipodes, in our opinion and despite this semi mythical outside break people mention when Tait is talked about, he is too lightweight, too weak in the tackle and simply not dangerous enough to warrant selection ahead of Tindall for one.

One player who did make the cut however is Matt Banahan which goes to show that Johnson has yet to get it totally right. Banahan is a lumbering and slow force on the international field and in our opinion always looks like a lock out of place. Yes, he is big, but he is not quick off the mark or particularly dynamic and to our mind these are much more important attributes for an international winger to have. Monye, whose place Banahan has taken, is relegated to the Saxons squad which is justified after some pretty ordinary performances for England over the past 9 months. It is quite some fall for Monye who only this time last year was lining up on the wing for the Lions.

Nevertheless, the non selection of Barkley and the picking of Banahan excepted, we are much happier with this pick and especially considering players such as Lawes and Youngs appear to have nailed down starting spots, perhaps there is hope after all. We reserve the right to continue our old refrain that Johnson appears to be lacking some tactical nous, as seen in every game under his tenure bar perhaps two or three, but at least the personnel is improving.

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Swann’s Song, Young Talent & Steve Borthwick As A Runner?!

26 05 2010

ECB Cricketer of the Year

It was announced yesterday that Graeme Swann, that product of the much derided county game, was the ECB Cricketer of the Year for 2009/10. There are absolutely no arguments from us as Swann’s arrival onto the international scene has meant that, not only do England have probably the best spinner in the world, but also that the England team has been injected with some much needed character. Swann is always worth listening too in press conferences, ready with a quip or a refreshing dose of honesty and since Flintoff has retired has really taken over the mantle of England’s most popular player.

It has  been a long time coming for Swann, originally being picked 1o years ago for a touring party to South Africa (along with such luminaries as Gavin Hamilton, Darren Maddy and a youthful Michael Vaughan), and we are very pleased for him. He is one of these players that is a joy to watch, whether it is his exuberant batting, smashing everything through cover, or his brilliant displays of flight, guile and not a little turn.

Swann’s tale is one that Monty Panesar for one should remember in his struggles to get back into the England side. Panesar of course had an astounding impact when he first came into the side, yet has since dropped off. Now he is plying his trade for Sussex and will surely return eventually to the England team a better bowler than where he was a couple of years ago.

Graeme Swann in 2009/10:

  • Tests: 521 runs @ 34.73, 58 wickets @ 30.15
  • ODI: 20 wickets @ 26.20
  • 20/20: 21 wickets @ 15.57

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Youthful British Talent

One of the major highlights of the County season so far is the large amounts of high performing young British talent on display. Have a look at the following who are all below 25:

  • Adam Lyth (Yorkshire, 22 years) 755 runs @ 68.63
  • James Hildreth (Somerset, 25) 590 runs @ 65.55
  • Ben Stokes (Durham, 18) 528 runs @ 66.00
  • Moeen Ali (Worcestershire, 22) 490 runs @ 70.00
  • Steven Davies (Worcestershire, 23) 465 runs @ 65.42
  • James Harris (Glamorgan, 20) 29 wickets @ 18.44
  • Steven Finn (Middlesex, 21) 29 wickets @ 18.68

Not a bad selection of young promise here. Steve Finn of course is likely to make his presence felt against Bangladesh this weekend and Steven Davies has also made his debut already. We wonder how long it will take one of these others to break through into the England set up?

There is also hope for the West Indies in the shape of the brilliantly named 19 year old, Chesney Hughes. Yesterday Chesney scored his maiden hundred for Derbyshire to put them in control of their match against Gloucestershire. A young cricketer learning his trade in the West Indies is fighting all sorts of problems including poorly run competitions, national team shambles and the lure of the 20/20 dollar. Hopefully for this young Anguillan an apprenticeship in County Cricket will set him on the cricketing straight and narrow.

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Kent Turn It Round

As Kent supporters, the Compulsive Hooker is absolutely delighted that they have managed to finally get on the winning side. Makhaya Ntini was the main architect of this win with 10 wickets in the match although he was impressively assisted by one test wonder Amjad Khan.

Equally impressive in his own way though was the performance of Ben Stokes (see above list) for Durham, who despite being injured badly in the first innings and effectively batting on one leg in the second, still managed to score 53. Interestingly during this innings he used Steve Borthwick as his runner which seems a strange decision to us. If you’re going to use an England rugby player – surely you should use Ben Foden, David Strettle or Chris Ashton. Not some lumbering lock who is liable to frequently take the wrong option!





Rob Andrew’s Madness

19 03 2010

“England are on the way back, no question about that”.

This piece of wisdom comes from the RFU’s Director of Elite Rugby, Rob Andrew. For those of you who don’t know, Rob Andrew is the man to whom Martin Johnson reports, and consequently the only man who can save English rugby from this mess.

At the time of Andrew’s appointment there were many people who questioned the decision, as Clive Woodward, the only other candidate for the job was felt to have the better qualifications. With the obvious benefits of hindsight taken into account, these people are surely now justified in telling everyone ‘I told you so’.

Any England fan will be only too accustomed to the ridiculous PR and positive gloss put on each and every woeful performance of recent times. Brutal honesty is rare, with only Lewis Moody and Mark Cueto of recent times admitting the truth. To a degree this attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the English rugby nation is fair enough, it is only natural to attempt to sell your own worth after all. Yet when the big boss is trying it too, it becomes obvious that English rugby is not in the right hands.

The Compulsive Hooker had been clinging onto the (already unlikely) hope that Rob Andrew would possess the strength of mind and character to admit his error in appointing Martin Johnson. Appointed as the legendary figure within the game who could inspire his average charges to great things, Johnson has proved that he is unable to do so. Andrew’s claim that progress is being made suggests that even if England lose to France heavily on Saturday, his job is safe for the foreseeable future.

Woodward has been criticised over the years for being autocratic, impulsive and someone who over complicates matters. Yet this type of attitude is perhaps what England need right now, someone unafraid to make the necessary decision and with the confidence to remove even a legend like Johnson.

For the second week in the row, the Compulsive Hooker finds ourselves in the terrible position of wanting England to lose so that change occurs, Rob Andrew permitting or not.





Martin Johnson Loses His Marbles

10 03 2010

The England team has been announced for Saturdays 6 Nations match against Scotland. With what is now disturbing regularity, Johnson has surprised most people by making 2 changes which, in our view, are verging on the ludicrous.

Firstly Lewis Moody has been replaced by Joe Worsley at 7, which quite frankly is a bizarre decision. We all know what Worsley offers, lots of tackling and hard work but also silly penalties and very little ball in hand. Moody, however, has been one of the few England players to have shone over the recent past and despite a quiet game against Ireland, it seems a strange decision. Worsley is a very fine defensive player and as such represents a negative pick.

Louis Deacon has come in for Simon Shaw forming what must be the most extraordinarily dull lock pairing we have ever seen. Both Deacon and Borthwick are players of much the same type, solid, dependable, slow and as far from the description ‘dynamic’ as it is possible to get. The only sliver of light showing here, comes in the form of Courtney Lawes, who has been moved up to the bench. Lawes shouldn’t hold his breath however as the last time he sat on the bench he wasn’t trusted with much actual game time.

Now and again in life you come across people who are contrary. We all know the sort, people who will disagree with even the most sensible argument simply for the sake of being different and are often stubborn and irritating individuals. It could be argued that Johnson could be one of these types given his selection policies. Every single critic, both English and not, including such coaching luminaries as Sir Ian McGeechan, have identified England’s failings and all broadly agree, although it must be said not everyone is on the same wavelength with regard to the cause of these issues. We won’t list them for the umpteenth time here, yet it appears the only man who doesn’t understand what is wrong, and therefore can hardly be expected to fix it, is Johnson himself. By ridding England of Moody, ignoring Foden and bringing in Louis Deacon to partner Borthwick (a case in point himself) he is reinforcing all that has been wrong up until this point and quite frankly, we don’t understand it.

The one change we, and many better informed commentators, feel should have been made has been ignored. Despite being clearly the only England back to have injected any pace and intent into the attacking game against Ireland, Foden has been ignored once again. In some ways we appreciate Johnson’s loyalty to Armitage, yet he has been such a stuttering presence it seems an opportunity missed to not give Foden his first start.

A second option which we feel would increase England’s potency, is by throwing Ben Youngs, Leicester’s flying scrum half, into the mix. Despite many media experts giving Danny Care qualified praise for his performances in this years competition, we at the Compulsive Hooker believe him to be a flawed player and actually the cause of some of England’s problems.He is quick and has the ability to break upfield, but his decision making is frequently poor and his passing slow due to the extra steps he takes each time he passes. Giving Youngs his head would have been a bold and brave move by Johnson, although it is hardly surprising he stopped short and only included the young 9 on the bench.

So there you have it. In our eyes, incontrovertible proof that Johnson is not the man for the  England job. We have said it before and we’ll say it again no doubt, but living legend and world cup winner though he is, coach, selector, manager, whatever you want to call him – he is not.

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It is getting to the point where we at the Compulsive Hooker, are considering not watching the game on Saturday. Up until now we would never have even contemplated such a boycott, yet the levels of frustration incurred by watching the drivel dished out by this current England side are so high that we would probably be better off focusing on the hockey for example. At least they can play.

Through chatting to many people over the past few weeks, we know that we are far from alone in this. We are from a situation where Twickenham will have spare tickets for a game, but England need to be careful. The fantastic work in promoting and widening the profile of this brilliant game done by England in the late 90’s and early 2000’s is being undone. At this rate, no 12 year old child is going to dream of being the next Steve Borthwick or Delon Armitage.

It is of course very easy for us to comment on England from the safety of our couches and not being responsible in any way. Yet something MUST be done and it must be done soon.

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Oh and a prediction for the match itself….. England to snatch a low scoring and pretty dire affair. 15-9 perhaps? It would not come as a surprise to us though if that scoreline is reversed. So far on this website we have been wrong probably 60% of the time. We would dearly love to be forced to write a piece on how amazingly short sighted we have been so far and of course if they can play like that, Johnson is clearly the man for the job… Somehow we doubt we’ll need to though!





England, Wales & French Teams Named

23 02 2010

England

We have all breathed a sigh of relief here at the Compulsive Hooker, with the news that Martin Johnson has named an unchanged side to the one that disappointed so against Italy. Jonny retains his place in the team and the only Hodgson in sight is an altogether better one, in the shape of London Irish’s Paul, who retains his place on the bench. Foden has come back into the subs line up replacing Matt Mullan of Worcester, and Joe Worsley for Steffon Armitage.

Johnson’s strange attraction to average and low impact locks continues with Deacon retaining his place, presumably as not to upset the balance of the team if Borthwick was to be removed.

With Ireland still to name their team we’ll hold off on the customary predictions at this stage….

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Wales vs France

Encouraging news for rugby fans in the hulking shape of Mike Phillips, who takes a place on the Welsh bench after playing only 40 minutes since coming back from injury. Wales who have been in something of a scrum half crisis without him, have named Richie Rees as starting 9 but be assured Phillips will come on at some point. Ever since the Lions he has been one of our favourite players here at the Compulsive Hooker.

Other than that Jonathan Thomas comes in in place of Andy Powell who is banned. Thomas will relish this opportunity to resurrect his Welsh careers after some time on the periphery and should not be underestimated by any means.

For France Benjamin Fall and Julien Bonnaire start. With the French there is always a slight question mark over how well they travel, yet the feeling is building that Lievremont has now got it right. Our feeling is that if they play even half as well as against Ireland then they will have too much for the Welsh.

For the Championships sake however and to attempt to maintain excitement to the end, we wouldn’t mind seeing the Welsh pull through and win this one. Certainly if they play like they did against Scotland  in the last 10 minutes of that game they will both have a chance and provide what would in all likelihood be a fantastic game for rugby connoisseurs.

Prediction: 32-21 to France.





England 30-17 Wales: Post Match Analysis

7 02 2010

What follows is a collaboration between our first guest contributor Mr. Follett and Bradders:

England started their 6 Nations campaign with a good result yesterday, beating Wales by the comfortable margin of 13 points. Whilst the margin of victory was large, it was ultimately flattering to England and Wales will have been disappointed that, with the scores at 20-17, they were unable to press for the win.

Starting in the forwards, there was both good and bad on show. Haskell fully deserved his man of the match award, putting in a performance to silence his persistent doubters. Nick Easter had a solid match and provided a game breaking moment with his charge into the Welsh 22, enabling Care to pick up and score near the posts. Moody, whilst not at his omnipresent best, as he was in the autumn internationals, was industrious and helped ensure England did not go backwards in the loose. With the Welsh lineout operating astoundingly poorly for much of the game, Borthwick and Shaw were able to take advantage, stealing Welsh throw in ball on more than one occasion. The bad, however, came predictably in the form of England’s scrum, which on more than one occasion creaked alarmingly. Whilst never being in full retreat, England escaped lightly as on at least two occasions Wilson was not penalized for pulling the scrum down. Cole’s emergence in the second half immediately appeared to shore things up and he should start next weekend’s game against Italy.

Danny Care had one of his better games for England, scoring an excellent try he illustrated why Johnson had picked him. The same problems of speed of service remain however and he must share some of the blame for the lack of quick ball at the breakdown. This lack of regular quick ball ensured that attacking opportunities for England’s backs were limited. Compounded by Wilkinson’s tendency to stand a little deep and Flood’s lack of pace in the 12 channel suggests that a Wilkinson – Flood combination is probably not the answer. With Flutey expected to recover in time for next week’s game we hope that he will inject some much needed urgency and creativity. Wilkinson’s place kicking could not be faulted however and his kicking out of hand was vastly improved on the dire offerings of the autumn. This is not to say England kicked well as a whole, with there still being far too many aimless and misdirected kicks. With the back three looking threatening on the rare occasions they had the ball and clearly being one of the strengths of this England team, it is imperative that they get the ball in attacking situations more often.

Overall the win was all important and should provide confidence to this beleaguered England team. Undoubtedly the victory margin was flattering and ball in hand the Welsh looked infinitely more threatening although England did display some of the required clinical ability with Haskell’s second try.

Wales on the other hand, whilst looking more of and attacking threat ball in hand, were unfortunately guilty of too many disciplinary faults conceding several penalties. Alun Wyn-Jones was the main offender however with his calculated and crazy decision to trip Dylan Hartley meaning that he spent 10 minutes in the sin bin either side of half time. In this period Wales conceded 17 points and from that point on the game was as good as lost. Gatland has been astonishingly but justifiably forthright in his post match comments, strongly criticizing Wyn-Jones’ and practically blaming him for the loss.

Despite this, Hook scored a coruscating try, eluding 4 men to score under the posts and give Wales a sniff of victory. Unfortunately their adventure undid them in the end, with Jones throwing the pass that Armitage intercepted to put Flood, then Tait and then Haskell in for the last try.

All is not lost for Wales in this campaign, although the feeling remains that with the amount of talent and game breakers they have in their side, they should be doing a great deal better. Somehow Gatland needs a way to unleash Jamie Roberts, as since his return from the Lions tour he has been a strangely subdued player. Only once last night did he break the line as Wales pressed in the final 10 minutes. Lee Byrne also had a game to forget and it is possible that the will he, won’t he nature of his participation in the game may have affected him adversely.

With Scotland next weekend, Wales will have to pick up their performance substantially to ensure that they have what it takes to beat a defence minded Scottish side.





Is Captaincy Really That Important?

2 02 2010

With all this talk of John Terry’s possible removal from the England captaincy, we began thinking what the role entailed and how crucial they are to the teams performance. The answer that we came up with was, well, not very!

Terry

Football is a game that is dictated entirely by the referees. It is the ref’s who decide when something is a penalty, free kick, yellow card etc. Obvious you may think, but in no situation that we can think of does a ref give a captain a choice that might effect the game. Even the toss up is negligible with pitches and playing conditions generally so good these days. With the game one dimensional (in that it is played with the feet and no other part of the body, keepers and throw ins excluded) and the punishment for any particular offence proscribed by the rulebook, it inevitably limits the participation of the captain.

Rugby by contrast is full of decisions which may effect the outcome of the game. Do we kick for touch, go for goal, tap and run, scrum down etc, any of which have a tactical element to them and will directly affect the end result. Moving to cricket and even a novice will be able to pick out the captain of the fielding side if asked after only a few minutes.

Terry is praised for his leadership on the football pitch and we concur that he seems to do the job admirably. Examples of captains who were praised for the example they set are commonplace, Martin Johnson and Nasser Hussain springing to mind. Terry therefore is in good company, but as captain in most other sports, that is the bare minimum you should do. Due to the fact that on a football pitch there are no other decisions to make, it does not seem that onerus. As long as you are seen to be playing hard and exhorting your colleagues on to greater things nothing else is expected. During pre game and half time periods the Manager will do much of the talking so to our eyes, leadership in football, whilst not a doddle, is certainly easier than in many other sports.

Saying all this one of the greatest displays of leadership by example we have ever seen, was David Beckham’s efforts against Greece in the 2002 World Cup qualifier. He was literally everywhere on the pitch, seemingly at the same time and capped it off with that remarkable free kick.

Strauss

In cricket the effect of removing or unsettling the captain is only too apparent when you look at the chaos that ensued when Pietersen was skipper. It took the calming influence of Strauss to come in to put England back on the right track. A current example is Pakistan, for whom, Mohamed Yousuf has just given the most extraordinary display of how not to skipper a side in their tour to Australia.

Therefore the footballing armband is a formality and honour only so we say remove Terry, give it to A.N. Other senior player and get on with it.

Whilst we’re on the subject of hopeless captains, lets remove Borthwick from the rugby job too. At least Terry can justify his starting position!








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