Wales 19-26 England: Exciting Start To The Six Nations

5 02 2011

As much as we are not a fan of Friday night fixtures in the Six Nations (mostly from selfish reasons once you take the time difference into account in the Middle East) last night’s game was one to savour. The quality was mixed with both Wales and England making elementary rugby errors on occasions but the passion, the occasion and the players commitment could not be faulted.

Despite the various claims by Welsh players and management that they ‘could have won the game’ we felt England were deserved winners having controlled the game for longer periods. The architect of England’s victory was the much maligned Toby Flood and throughout his time on the pitch was the central figure in England’s quest for the win.

Flood is not a showy player, neither is he the type to make a sixty yard break a la Dan Carter, yet he is becoming expert at picking the holes and importantly keeping his hands free so as to put other players away. Ashton’s first try resulted from Flood seizing a mismatch between backs and forwards before putting Ashton away on the inside and on several other occasions valuable yards were gained by Flood’s half breaks and intelligent off loading. For all the claims Jonny Wilkinson has to the starting role (and it must be remembered we are die hard fans of the great man’s) Flood is the correct choice for the moment and probably the entire Six Nations.

Outside Flood the England were backs were again industrious although they did not quite show the same fluidity as perhaps against Australia back in the Autumn. Hape had good moments going forward although he was at fault for Stoddart’s eventual try and could run straighter on occasions. On the wings Ashton of course scored two tries, demonstrating a happy knack to be in the right place at the right time with Cueto again excellent although his hunt for a try must go on.

Quibbles? Well yes we have a couple. Tindall, again, while solid looked far from threatening and slow in the 13 channel. We have always had an immense amount of respect for him yet it remains a simple truth that if there was another half decent option in that position he would probably not be in the squad. Should England and Johnson unearth a potential heir to the World Cup winner over the next few months – someone who has some speed and the capacity to do the unexpected – it would certainly not hurt England’s chances.

Secondly, a minor point about Ben Foden. Foden is a player with a myriad of supporters in the English press and amongst the fans who appreciate his willingness to run the ball back at the opposition rather than indulge in kick tennis. We too admire him for this, although we do wish he wouldn’t tuck the ball under his arm quite so readily. A defender watching an opponent running at him will see this and immediately know that, even despite the presence of supporting runners, Foden is simply going to have a go himself.

If you watch the great full backs, for example Mils Muliaina of New Zealand, they always keeps the ball available for the pass (unless of course the gap is massive and he is simply motoring through untouched), so spreading an element of doubt in the defenders mind. At least once last night Foden was also guilty of carrying the ball in the wrong hand which meant he was penalised for holding on when he was tackled – so ending what had been a very promising and sweeping England attack.

This is a minor quibble only though, we hasten to add, and one which we can live with as we would rather have Foden’s sense of adventure coupled with his safety defensively rather than any of the alternative selections.

Up front England were solid if not devastating with Easter, debutant Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley all having good evenings. It was the unsung Tom Palmer who again stood out for us most though as his excellent work at the line out, combined with a crucial turnover and generally excellent work in the loose, meant that he is rapidly becoming a lynch pin to this England pack.

By no means a perfect performance, the result and the knowledge that there was much excellent work to build on will give England heart. With three home games to come there is no reason to think at this stage why this cannot be an excellent tournament for Martin Johnson’s side.

Wales on the other hand have little to write home about. Imprecise, repeatedly taking the wrong option by kicking when there was space out wide to work with and losing out in the scrummage battles, it was the same old story for Wales. There comes a point in any coaches career when you feel that no matter what they do they are not going to either sort out the problems or reinvigorate the players. It happened with Ireland’s Eddie O’Sullivan and also for Andy Robinson during his time as Head Coach for England and now we feel it might be happening to Gatland.

They have had the same problems for the best part of 18 months now and there seems to be little signs of any resolution to this. It is true that there will be people who said ‘they could have won’ and perhaps if they had been cleverer on the ball this might have even been the case. The fact of the matter is though that they created almost no clear cut opportunities; the chances being cited by pundits and fans alike generally still requiring a substantial amount of work to be done and hardly fall into the category of final pass gone wrong missed opportunities.

As Jonathan Davies said afterwards in the post match round up, there was very little Wales could take out of this game although we would suggest that Morgan Stoddart on his debut was one. He appeared to be a strong, pacey and willing player who consistently looked a threat to England’s defence (despite his first knock on) and also finished his try superbly.

It is doubtful whether the WRU having given Gatland a lucrative contract until 2015 will part ways with him any time soon, but in our eyes the rumbles of discontent will surely grow if, as we predicted, Wales finish contesting the Wooden Spoon with Italy.





Autumn Internationals Round Up: England

29 11 2010

After a depressing end to what had previously been an encouraging Autumn International series we are not sure exactly what conclusions to draw. Whilst some questions have been resolved there are many that are still outstanding; amongst them – are England truly a side capable of challenging for the world cup next year? What does their defeat to South Africa mean? Is two out of four really good enough?  In an attempt to answer some of these questions we will split the arguments into positives and negatives.

Positives:

In our eyes the most obvious one, despite his relatively poor game against South Africa, is the young Leicester man, Ben Youngs. Watching him play it has been easy to forget just how youthful and inexperienced he still is. This time last year he had only just started playing regularly for the midlands club following injury to Harry Ellis but has already established himself as surely a fixture in the side for the next five to ten years. In fact he was so integral to England’s attack that it was noticeable how, with huge South African pressure at the breakdown and at scrum time, England as a whole lost their shape.

Flood too had a good series and his half back partnership with Youngs is now an effective one. Never flashy or extravagant, Flood has done enough to justify his continuing selection as first choice fly half.

Outside these two there are further success stories. Hape has been increasingly creative and was one of the few bright spots against the Springboks. Cueto has had a quite exceptional Autumn despite not having scored for close on twenty tests now. Inventive, sharp and continually asking questions of oppositions defence he was as key to England’s revival as anyone else. On the other wing Ashton was electric in attack and solid in defence and is part of the younger brigade of players who look like being the core of the team for some time to come.

Foden, at full back, was on balance good although he had one or two hairy moments, particularly against South Africa. It is a hugely refreshing thing to have a running full back although we would rather he keeps the ball in two hands a bit longer – by tucking it under his arm he immediately shows the opposition he is going himself rather than potentially releasing any supporting runners. A minor thing however and he deserves a pat on the back for his efforts.

Up front there were more positives with the entire pack doing well. Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole, Tom Palmer, Andrew Sheridan and Tom Croft were all brilliant at points but most importantly performed consistently well. This is an excellent pack and one which will only grow in stature as time goes by. Easter had his moments in the last two games although turned over too much for our liking against the Kiwi’s and the Aussies. He remains the best we have in that position. Moody was consistent if not outstanding but led the team well and so remains comfortable first choice seven.

Perhaps more encouraging than any individual performances was the nature of the way England played the game. This of course reached an apogee against the Australians in what was the finest England performance for quite some time (certainly seven years or so) and then tailed off gradually. The fact that England were trying to play with pace and width and on several occasions actually succeeded demonstrates that, at the very least, Martin Johnson is moving them in the right direction.

Negatives

Pleasingly less negatives than positives – something that we haven’t been able to say when reviewing a series for what seems like eons – but there are still question marks remaining. Most glaringly is the outside centre conundrum. Tindall was reasonable and provides a solid and experienced presence, yet he is hardly a game breaker as someone like Conrad Smith is for the All Blacks. His replacement for the Samoa game, Matt Banahan, didn’t do enough to suggest he is ‘the man’ moving forward although he wasn’t without his own plus points. A class 13 is priority now for Johnson.

A second worry would be the way that England were blown off the park against the Springboks on Saturday. In mitigation a couple of England’s key players went off injured – yet it looked like the sheer physicality of the South African’s simply overpowered them and at points there was an element of panic and a forced nature about the English play.

To tell the truth it was likely to be a case of inexperience and a young side not knowing how to go back to basics (plus the Boks were awesome at the breakdown) and so hopefully this will improve over time.

Finally, what we will say is that England still need to be more efficient and take their chances better. It was certainly improved this November yet one feels that had it been the All Blacks in a few of their try scoring opportunities that went begging – the score lines would look all the more impressive.

Conclusion

A decent if not outstanding Autumn but still short on actual results. England were beaten by a better side on the day against the Boks and by a genuinely brilliant side in the All Blacks but will still feel that it was a November which could have gone better. This being testament to raised standards and correspondingly raised expectations, it is actually no bad thing and for that alone, Martin Johnson would probably be pleased on balance.

To answer the question posed in the opening paragraph regarding the world cup we would suggest that at this stage England are probably not world cup challengers. Yet, if they put together a good 6 Nations, they could take the final small steps that will put them right up there and who is to say after their game against Australia this isn’t possible?





The All Blacks Are Coming and Flood/Wilkinson

18 10 2010

Graham Henry announced the 30 man touring party that will be travelling to the Northern Hemisphere this November. Notable not only for the sheer quality of names (despite a few injuries) that have been picked, but mainly for the inclusion of their rugby league convert and potential superstar, Sonny Bill Williams.

This is a name that many people outside of the southern hemisphere won’t be too familiar with but, by all accounts (and having done some research on youtube), he looks likely to take the international rugby world by storm. Certainly we at the Compulsive Hooker are slightly scared by what he might be able to do to what we suspect will be an outclassed English side. Upon leaving rugby league in 2008, Williams joined Toulon in the Top 14, playing alongside such luminaries as Jonny Wilkinson and Carl Hayman before re-signing with the NZRU (New Zealand Rugby Union) and refusing an offer that has variously been reported as between 5 and 6 million US dollars from Toulon.

To give all NH fans a taste of what we might be in for have a look at the video below. Clearly the all round package he obviously has good hands on him as well as being an enormous tackler. His hit just after 3 minutes is particularly worth replaying. In the international arena he may come under more scrutiny for not wrapping his arms around the player – an old habit from his rugby league days – but either way he remains a fearsome prospect. (You might want to turn the volume down as the music the poster of the video has put with it is remarkably annoying).

The rest of the squad is much as expected although we are disappointed not to see Israel Dagg travel due to his thigh injury. In several cameos off the bench in the Tri Nations he scored a couple of incredible solo tries and showed that the New Zealand conveyor belt of running talent is still in operation.

The All Blacks played some of the best rugby that the Compulsive Hooker has ever seen over the recent tournament and particularly in the early games took rugby to a level rarely seen before. The pace and precision was extraordinary and we cannot help but think that they will complete the ‘Grand Slam’ in the Autumn with relative ease this year. A full preview will follow for all these games but for now let us just say we are already highly excited by the prospect of international rugby on every weekend throughout November – it really is one of our favourite times of the year!

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Wilkinson / Flood

Talking of rugby weekends, the one we have just had was not bad at all with the second round of the Heineken cup matches being played. With the debate about who should be playing fly-half for England about to be renewed once more, we thought we would watch both the Leicester vs Scarlets game and Munster vs Toulon to get up to speed on the relative form of the two contenders Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson.

During Saturdays game in Ireland, Wilkinson emerged just after half time to play in a side that was being dominated in every facet of the game by an excellent Munster team. Taking things by the scruff of the neck it was noticeable that Wilkinson immediately injected life to Toulon providing them shape and a great deal of width. Unfortunately with Munster defending well and the Toulon backs lacking depth, he was unable to ultimately provide the cutting edge that the French side needed. Encouragingly though, reports on a resurgence of form do not look to be entirely misplaced with his passing being good on the whole and a couple of half breaks showing some quick feet plus a well taken drop goal.

In Leicester’s game Flood was making his comeback from an injury and therefore could have been forgiven some match rustiness. On the contrary though he was decidedly good and his combination with the effervescent Ben Youngs at scrum half might be enough to tempt Martin Johnson to retain his services. It is true he was playing in a dominant team behind a pack going forwards unlike Wilkinson at Toulon, yet his performance will have pleased the England management no end.

The Compulsive Hooker does not have a history of rating Toby Flood highly so our verdict based on this weekend may come as a surprise – yet we wouldn’t change the Leicester 9/10 combination for the opening game on this evidence. Obviously a lot can change over the next 3 weeks and this is far from an open and shut case, but, with Flood also being the incumbent, we would put our money on him starting.

 





Summer Internationals Preview: Rugby

10 06 2010

Once again it is that time of year when the northern hemisphere national teams head down south with a mixture of trepidation and what usually turn out to be false hopes. There are some intriguing battles over the next few weeks but, unfortunately, we suspect that by the end of these fixtures the balance on the win ledger will be firmly in favour of the southern teams.

This gap in standards and abilities, which has only ever been closed on brief occasions in the past, is as wide as it ever has been, no matter that Australia for one are still rebuilding, or that South Africa and New Zealand are choosing to experiment slightly. For most of the NH teams the same problems are still present; a lack of fluidity and adaptability in England’s case; a lack of a front row in Irelands; simply no depth in Scotland’s case meaning an innate lack of quality and with France, well, you never know if they’re interested in playing until they start. Wales are alone out of the home nations in not having a game this weekend having kicked off their Summer with a home game against the Springboks last weekend, in which they came thrillingly close, but couldn’t quite close it out.

England vs Australia (Perth)

Out of all the teams playing southern hemisphere opposition this weekend England have as good a chance as any. Australia are firstly a side of whom they are not scared (which silly as it may seem can be a factor in these tours) and are also a side going through their own rebuilding process. That they have managed to keep sneaking the odd win against the Boks and the All Blacks during this period whilst also winning most of their games against other opposition suggests that their coach is doing a better job than Johnson in his rebuilding process.

England come into this game with a couple of selections creating interest in the Aussie press, not least the selection of Toby Flood on the bench ahead of Jonny Wilkinson. A surprise perhaps to them but to any England supporters this news is hardly worth raising an eyebrow to. Flood, having come in at the tail end of the 6 Nations in March, is the man in possession and quite honestly (and this is tough to say as JW is one of our favourites here) currently the better game manager. Jonny will be back, of that we have no doubt, but he is not the 2003 super hero deluxe model any more.

The other interesting selection is Shontayne Hape, the ex All Black rugby league player, who comes in at 12 for the injured Riki Flutey. One Kiwi for another then. Here at the Compulsive Hooker this selection of foreign born players for England is a regular conundrum with which we wrestle; it now being common in many sports but particularly cricket and rugby. Truth be told it is nothing new and England are far from being alone in doing it, yet we do feel that a line should be drawn when that player has already represented a different country at senior level in another sport. Therefore, whilst we have nothing against Hape, we hope that Ollie Barkley has his own opportunity to state his case whilst still on tour. This seems unlikely to happen though as he appears to be several rungs down in the pecking order.

We are glad to see Tom Croft back in the team having come in for Joe Worsley. Croft is a serious talent and you feel would thrive if he was playing for any other team than England, enjoying as he does the wide open spaces and a quick game, and we hope Johnson can accommodate him properly.

We are also pleased to see Ben Youngs on the bench although we would much rather he was starting. We believe that he will end up being first choice England scrum half for the next five years once he fights his way into the team. He will however have to get past Martin Johnson’s strange love affair with Danny Care.

Turning on the TV last night we watched England play Ireland in the Junior World Championships currently being played in Argentina and what a joy it was. These players are still young enough that they are simply playing ‘heads-up’ rugby. Literally playing what they see in front of them rather than getting bogged down in the slowly worked and usually ineffective set piece moves and game plans so beloved of the England senior team. If senior England can show the level of invention and simply the willingness to play rugby as the junior side did, well – even a loss would be easier to stomach.

It’s time for your team to start delivering Johno – don’t let us down now.

Prediction: Australia 35-13 England

A quick look at the other two big games:

New Zealand vs Ireland

This is likely to be a difficult tour for Ireland as not only are they battling history, never having beaten the All Blacks home or away, but are also battling their own front row. This is of course overstating it a little bit, John Hayes would never do anything to harm Ireland’s cause on purpose, yet his very selection is worrying. For the last year or more the Irish pack has gone backwards regularly and spectacularly at scrum time as age finally tells on Hayes. On the other side of the scrum is Cian Healy, dynamic in the loose but still learning at scrum time and regularly out scrummaged. It is testament to Ireland’s other players and their fighting qualities that during this period they have been so successful, but we feel against the might of the AB’s only pain will follow.

Otherwise the Irish side is really as good as it’s possible to be, injuries permitting. Mick O’Driscoll is in for O’Connell and will surely do a solid job and Trimble in for Earls. O’Gara is picked ahead of Sexton whose place kicking at international level is suspect, even if the rest of his game is not, and against the All Blacks you need assurance that, when there are points on offer, they are taken.

Prediction: All Blacks 32-19 Ireland

South Africa vs France

Similarly to England, France have a reasonable chance of a win as South Africa have named an interesting team for Saturdays game. The Bok’s showed their World Champion qualities last week against Wales, doing just enough to win, yet the challenge will be that much tougher against France this week.

France have come off a 6 Nations where they demonstrated exactly how powerful an outfit they are, winning in style and well. If they can continue this form then there is no reason why they cannot beat South Africa at home. It really depends which French team turns up as even in this professional age you can never guarantee a performance from them. (Witness their win in the Autumn against South Africa, only to then get trounced by New Zealand the following week). We actually think they might win this series and it would be impossible to understate the value of this leading into world cup year in 2011.

Prediction: South Africa 21 – 29 France

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Leicester Do It Again & England vs Barbarians

30 05 2010

In a brilliant  and pulsating Guinness Premiership final last night, Leicester got their hands firmly back on the trophy for the sixth time since the advent of professionalism in the union game. It is also the third time in the past four years demonstrating the level of domination they have enjoyed in recent times.

Rarely, however, can Leicester have played with such verve as they did yesterday though and it was a marked change from their early season performances in which they (and Saracens incidentally) were criticised for dull and try-less rugby. Saracens also played excellently and were in many ways unfortunate to lose. Indeed one feels that had Saracens come up against any other English side and played the way they did; they would have probably won by somewhere in the region of 20 points.

Finals are often dull affairs with the really exciting rugby usually being played in the semi finals. This phenomenon usually occurs because there is simply too much to lose by playing the higher risk but more exciting rugby needed to put on a spectacle for the fans. Yet, in yesterdays game, the execution and generally incredibly high skill levels came together to ensure that this was not the case.

With the scheduling of this game meaning it started immediately after the Super 14 final; the pessimist in us, here at the Compulsive Hooker, worried that it would compare unfavourably. You know what you are going to get with the Super 14; lots of running, high levels of attacking skill, the odd missed tackle but generally rugby at an almost international level of intensity. With English rugby generally being considered to be in the doldrums at the moment, last nights game was a welcome tonic with all the same facets of play present. With players such as Toby Flood, likely to be key components of England’s summer tour to Australia excelling yesterday, perhaps all is not lost from a national point of view.

With several notable performances from both sides including both scrum halves, the aforementioned Flood, Geordan Murphy and Andy Saull, we were left wondering how Martin Johnson has not included Alex Goode in his elite squad to tour Australia. Goode, recently voted in at full-back for the premiership team of the season, was a constant threat and always totally secure. If we have so many high quality 15’s in the English game that Johnson can afford to ignore him in a squad of over 40 players – English rugby is lucky indeed!

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England vs Barbarians

This excellent weekend of rugby continues today when England play the Barbarians in what should be a good game. Whether it can live up to the above match in levels of intensity is a different question; but there are several players on both sides with something to prove. For the Barbarians; Paul Sackey should be relishing his chance against David Strettle having been the forgotten man of recent English rugby history.

For England; Shontayne Hape makes his debut at 12 alongside Mike Tindall in what should be a bruising partnership. The Compulsive Hooker has written about what we think of this ex-kiwi national rugby league player’s presence in the side before (suffice to say we don’t agree with his inclusion) and so we hope he has a shocker and is substituted for the deserving Olly Barkley early on. Barkley has had an excellent season upon his return from injury for Bath and we feel should be given a shot at the 12 position.

The dreaded Charlie Hodgson lines up at 10 and we are positive that, with the pressure of a full international off, he will probably play very well. We just hope that this does not cloud Martin Johnson’s vision of who should be lining up at 10 in the upcoming months…





Is It Too Late For Johnson?

17 03 2010

Encouraging news from the England camp with Delon Armitage amongst others being released back to their clubs for the final weekend of the 6 Nations. The team hasn’t been announced yet, so the Compulsive Hooker cannot report that the obvious and much needed replacement, in the shape of Ben Foden, will start. Neither can we rule out that Martin Johnson will ignore this obvious solution and do something else extraordinary. At the very least we can be assured that Ugo Monye won’t be asked to fill the 15 shirt again, as he has been released back to his club due to injury.

Joking aside, these are positive steps as it gives Johnson an opportunity to throw Chris Ashton into the mix. Matt Banahan has come back into the reckoning as a further left wing option, yet his lumbering style is not what England need at this moment in time. To the Compulsive Hooker, his selection was always a homage to size over skill and pace where it counts. A return to this path would represent a further backwards step for England.

Another difficult decision will be whether to select Jonny Wilkinson at 10 considering his knock last week and Flood’s deft touches standing flat when he came on. In our opinion and as we have stated before many times, the problems do not begin and end with Jonny, good as Flood was when he came on, so therefore Johnson’s loyalty in this case will hopefully continue.

These are all difficult decisions and we hope that Johnson makes the ones that represent positive steps forward. For most England fans, win on Saturday or not, Johnson’s time is up and only a performance of sheer brilliance could bring a stay of execution.





Some Questions

14 03 2010

It is hard to write this piece without it descending into a diatribe of epic proportions against England and particularly the England management. Nevertheless, we will try and provide a few opinions as objectively as possible regarding the game we have just watched.

Ending in a draw, which to our eyes seemed a fair result considering the sheer inadequacies present on both sides, it underlined the shortcomings mentioned ad nauseam in previous articles on this site. To a large degree we are willing to exempt the players from blame; not totally you understand as there is far too much experience within the team and poor execution in the game to do so, but on the whole we feel they are handicapped by poor selection and an atrocious game plan from the England management.

Before we go any further, and to attempt to stem the flow of negativity straining to unleash itself from our fingertips, let us have a look at Scotland. On the whole, Andy Robinson, will be relatively pleased with a draw although this still leaves Scotland likely wooden spoon winners. Yet this was a game that Scotland could, and possibly should have won. There were definite positives in several key areas; the 6,7,8 combo continues to impress with Beattie in particular vying with Jamie Heaslip for the title of the best number 8 in the home nations, and out wide Scotland again showed intent and variation. Unfortunately the final pass went astray too often for them to be truly effective but importantly the desire was there.

Despite results not going their way, Scotland have improved over these past 4 games. They remain hamstrung by a small player base which means they are always going to be a smaller nation, yet under Andy Robinson they have showed more structure and played more rugby. We hope that the Scottish board sticks with him as with a bit more luck and certainly a little more nous the results in this tournament could have been quite different. It was interesting to see the Scottish full back punching the ball into touch once Toby Flood’s attempted drop goal has been charged down, willing this time to settle for the draw. Lessons have clearly been learnt from the Wales game.

And so, back to England.

There are two overriding emotions present here at the Compulsive Hooker so let us deal with them one at a time. Firstly frustration. Here is a list of things in England’s favour which in theory should mean England should not be in this current malaise.

  • England are blessed with one of the largest player bases of any senior test match rugby nation.
  • Even despite the recent economic downturn, the financial status of the RFU and most English clubs has remained healthy.
  • The facilities available throughout these clubs and at headquarters remain some of the best in the world.
  • The wealth of the clubs has been able to ensure that the majority of the star players stay in England and are not tempted overseas for more lucrative rewards creating a player drain. The recent strength of the Euro and the wage caps imposed in the UK, has made this a greater challenge than before, yet France is hardly far away….
  • The ability to attract foreign talent for the financial reasons above. This of course can be argued both ways, but really and truly the standard of the Guiness Premiership would not be half as good as it is without many of these players playing. (There are some exceptions to this rule but not many).

Yet despite all these compelling reasons (and we are positive there are many more) why England should, from a support point of view be one of the best teams in the world, yet come to naught when you look at results.

The second emotion is puzzlement. To explain this we have composed a list of questions below which go some way to elucidating this feeling. (In no particular order….)

  • Where has Riki Flutey disappeared to? We know he’s a good player (3rd test of the Lions tour, France and Wales matches in last years 6 Nations are all examples of his abilities), yet in the last 3 games he has been extraordinarily innocuous and totally invisible. Did he touch the ball before the 57th minute today? We missed it if so….
  • Steve Borthwick? Really?
  • Louis Deacon? And Steve Borthwick? Together?
  • Will Steve Borthwick ever fail to use the adjective ‘fantastic’ in relation to another dreary England performance? We haven’t seen the post match interviews with him but we’d be willing to bet he said the word somewhere….
  • Delon Armitage? Which dastardly character has stolen his mojo?
  • Why the aversion to exciting and dynamic young players? (Dan Coles excepted). Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes, Ben Youngs? It’s as if they have been put on the bench as a token gesture to appease the angry press and near to rioting fans but nothing more.
  • Why does Jonny stand so deep? Is it really the game plan ‘so lay off him’, as Johnson told the media earlier in the tournament, or was he simply protecting his talisman?
  • What does Rob Andrew do for his exorbitant wages? (This is a very interesting point and one which we will tackle at some point in the near future).
  • Does Rob Andrew possess big enough ‘cahones’ to sack the man he appointed to be England’s saviour?
  • Will Martin Johnson admit defeat and resign, therefore saving him the trouble?
  • Who can sack Rob Andrew? Why won’t whoever it is that can do so?
  • Where has Mark Cueto’s pace gone?
  • Where can we apply to join the England back room team? It’s well paid, amazing job security with almost no performance related targets to hit and on top of that masses of great England gear…..
  • Above all, England have good players. We know this. But why, oh why, can they not play rugby together?!?!
  • Etc
  • Etc

There are many, many more questions where these came from. There are also answers to many of them, but somehow the men to whom all these frustrations and performance issues come back to, appear to be supremely oblivious to the either the problems, solutions or both.

Please Johnno! We loved you as a player and as a fearsome man of iron; but please don’t ruin your reputation or tarnish our still (but only just) pure adoration for you. It’s time to get out whilst you still can…..








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