The wrecking ball has been swung for one final time into England’s disastrous World Cup campaign. It appears the so-called inquest has been dealt with in a rather unsavoury manner, slapping fines on Chris Ashton and James Haskell and making Mike Tindall the scapegoat for the whole sordid affair. The 33-year-old centre was cautioned to the tune of £25,000 and dropped from the Elite player squad, thus ruling him out of the upcoming Six Nations and summer tour to South Africa. Essentially that spells the end of his England career. Whether Tindall would have been selected anyway is questionable, he no longer offers the threat in midfield that saw him partner Will Greenwood in a World Cup Final. His powerful straight angles of running are no longer needed; England have acquired an upgraded model in Manu Tuilagi, one who has a decent pair of hands too and doesn’t have the turning circle of a locomotive train. But this is irrelevant. Yes, Tindall’s Englandcareer is over, but that doesn’t explain why the country has suddenly turned their back on him.
Back to that now-infamous night in Queenstown. While the rest of the squad engaged in the popular local activity of dwarf-tossing, Mike was busy frolicking around with an ex-girlfriend in the corner of the bar, a moment captured on CCTV that made England’s campaign for glory all the more difficult. The kiss itself is dubious, only the most ambitious of rumour-mongers in our nice and supportive national press could make too much of it, but there was enough there to create a media storm that swirled around Camp England for the rest of the tournament. Zara herself made enough of it to fly out to New Zealand. The question is why was one display of public embarrassment enough to derail four years of hard planning? Tindall’s father, Phil raised an interesting point when he suggested the issue would have blown over as quickly as it begun if it hadn’t been for the nature of Tindall’s relationship. For this, he must accept responsibility; although his marriage to a Royal may not be quite Wills and Kate, publicity was and is always going to surround him and Zara Phillips. It’s just the intrusive nature of our country. Regrettably, the lack of apology from the player himself seems to have inflated the situation, landing the blame squarely on the rather large shoulders of his manager, prompting the “Rugby players drink beer. Shocker” quote from Martin Johnson. Such a lack of tact in answering the supposed crisis facing the squad may have angered the RFU, causing them to take extreme actions now the players have returned home. Vast investigations have been undertaken, mostly by Rob Andrew (isn’t it nice to see he does do something useful after all?) and the conclusion they came to was Tindall’s punishment. Brilliant. If the centre’s actions were so damaging, why on earth was he allowed to remain with the squad in the first place? Given that no disciplinary action was taken back in New Zealand, the whole situation should have been brushed under the carpet and left alone.
Instead we have been subjected to weeks and weeks of this rubbish. Let’s be honest, did England really lose to France and perform abysmally against Argentina and Scotland all because Mike Tindall got a little tipsy on a night out. What a ridiculous notion. England weren’t the only side embroiled with off-field issues. Australia’s James O’Connor missed a team photo shoot after a night out and was dropped for the Tri-Nations decider. No witch-hunt followed. Several New Zealanders caught the media’s attention with boozing during the tournament, indeed Cory Jane and Israel Dagg were caught in a bar just 72 hours before their quarter-final. Yet the two of them still ended up with winners’ medals, not to mention turning in superb performances in the crucial semi-final victory over Australia. Comments have been made regarding Wales’ exemplary off-field behaviour but staying completely out of the public eye can have its drawbacks too. Ask Fabio Capello’s Three Lions. Bored out their minds in a rural South African hotel, they have learnt from their mistakes and booked accommodation in the middle of Krakow for Euro 2012. These examples show off-field issues happen. Teams deal with it and move on. So why haven’t England?
The RFU seem determined to pin the blame on someone. They’ve decided Martin Johnson wasn’t enough of a failure to fire, thus ruling him out of the firing line, so they turn to the players themselves. People are all circles are slowly leaning towards sympathy for Tindall, former players have come out all guns blazing in their defence. Austin Healey in particular left a rather cutting comment on Twitter: “25k fine is wrong. Tindall has been made a scapegoat…he set bad example but …Andrew trying to justify his position.” The review of England’s campaign has left a sour taste in the mouths of many rugby fans. Most can see through the smokescreen the RFU has created to hide the problems caused by their own internal battles. Maybe they should get their own house in order before questioning the player’s performances. Ok, Tindall was in the wrong. He should have apologised. But to suggest he demolished our World Cup chances single-handedly smacks far too much of blame shifting. A rather disappointing way to end the career of someone who won 75 caps for his country, working his skin to the bone for the red rose in the process. It’s a shame any memories of Mike Tindall will be distorted by one hazy image from a dingy nightclub. Wouldn’t mind reading his tour diaries though.