So the inquest begins over England’s dismal World Cup effort. Who was to blame? Martin Johnson? The players? The dwarves that frequent that infamous Queenstown nightclub? While the last one can be discarded firmly in the pile marked ‘World Cup Blunders,’ right next to Tindall’s blonde lady friend and Tuilagi’s adventure off the side of a ferry, the answer surely lies in a combination of the first two. The players underperformed whilst the blame also lies at Johnson’s feet for bad team selection and poorly designed tactics. Leaving players like Tom Palmer, arguably England’s best player in the 6 Nations, out of the side proved costly, whilst his faith in Wilkinson never came to fruition as England crashed out unceremoniously without ever calling on his nerves of steel. Nerves of steel that, by the way, converted just 50% of his kicks in comparison to Flood’s 71%. Make of that what you will. The forwards were, to put it simply, atrocious. The discipline figures were frankly unbelievable, and whilst Johnson cannot be blamed for brainless forwards leaving their hands in the ruck time and time again, it was still a problem the management should have conquered. Captain Lewis Moody has acknowledged the issue of off-field behaviour, stating he should have banned the team from going out. I don’t buy into the tabloid invasion of England privacy, social bonding forms a big part of rugby, but the players didn’t do themselves any favours, attracting so many negative column inches at a time when their on-field form was less-than-impressive. Maybe they should have taken a leaf out of Wales’ book, exemplary on all accounts.
So where do they go from here? There is no need to cover the finer points of England’s failures, so many have done so and the answers appear fairly obvious. The idea of an ‘inquest’ is a joke in itself. The hierarchy at the RFU faces an uncertain future and need to get their house in order so to not disrupt the playing side of things anymore. The decision on whether to extend Johnson and the rest of his coaching staff’s contracts is now dragging on too long, if a new incumbent is to be appointed, he needs time in order to prepare for the upcoming Six Nations. England will struggle to retain their crown, facing a Wales side full of youthful vigour, not to mention World Cup finalists France, who, under the guidance of a real coach in Philippe Saint-Andre will go from strength to strength. Ireland will provide their usual threat; Scotland can’t perform as badly as they did in the World Cup, whilst Italy will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with wily old Frenchman Pierre Berbizier at the helm. If Johnson is removed, coaching options are available. Amongst the English names, Jim Mallinder has already thrown his name into the hat having worked wonders at Northampton, Richard Cockerill would turn England’s pack back into the menacing machine it once was and Shaun Edwards will obviously be linked with the position, being out of contract at the WRU and having recently resigned from his role as Head Coach of Wasps. In terms of foreign names, Jake White is still available to install a winning mentality, Nick Mallet may fancy the challenge of reviving a big nation as he once did with South Africa, whilst Eddie Jones always shouts his name from the rooftops come application time. One name stands out if changes are to be made. A certain Mr G.Henry has left his post with the World Cup winners and if rumours are to be believed, fancies a crack at Europe. He may not fancy being Head Coach, but if he is interested, the RFU has to find a job for him somewhere, perhaps something similar to Rob Andrew’s role at the moment, maybe even replacing him? My personal preference would be to throw the cheque book at him, involving him in some way, whilst ensuring any title does not clash with Johnson’s position.
Because yes, I would keep Johnson. He may have failed but the signs were positive during last year’s Six Nations and hopefully he will abandon the fear that took hold of his selection and tactics during the World Cup and throw off the shackles just like they did against Australia last autumn. After all, Clive Woodward had a shot at one World Cup before he found the correct formula. In terms of his backroom staff, it would be criminal not to involve Shaun Edwards. Proven ability at both club and international level, the fact Wales got their hands on him in the first place is a disgrace. Bring him back in any shape or form. A wildcard shot would be Jason Robinson. He made a hash of his coaching career at Sale but apply his expertise to England’s promising but raw backs and there is the potential to create a real dangerous threat out wide. Selection will prove a crucial part to any future success. The World Cup returns to home soil in 2015 and it is crucial that foundations are laid down immediately. The young stars we saw in the autumn and the Six Nations should be given the opportunity to play a carefree form of rugby, allowing the likes of Youngs, Lawes and Tuilagi the chance to dominate the international scene for the next four years. The role of some of the older heads needs to be reviewed, Moody has already retired and I would expect Tindall and Easter to follow. Whilst the value of leadership should not be completely tossed aside,England again need to look at their Celtic rivals Wales, whose leadership comes in the form of one classy (red card aside) 22-year-old, Sam Warburton. Players like Alex Corbisiero, Owen Farrell or even younger stars’ like Wasps’ flyer Christian Wade or Leicester’s maestro in the making, George Ford need backing and national recognition at an early age. The Wallabies do it, the Welsh do it, so why can’t we? Is this a blueprint to success? Possibly not, but unless something akin is laid down soon, we cannot home to compete in our own tournament.