England coaching staff 'simply not good enough'
November 23, 2011
Not fit for purpose? The England coaches pose on the eve of the disastrous World Cup campaign. Defence coach Mike Ford, forwards coach John Wells, manager Martin Johnson, scrum coach Graham Rowntree, backs coach Brian Smith, and kicking coach Dave Alred © Getty Images
The three reports on England's wretched World Cup campaign are all highly critical of the coaching structure, so much so that only scrum coach Graham Rowntree seems likely to hold on to his job.
The reports, which have been compiled after speaking to most of those involved in the tournament, were intended to be private but have been leaked to The Times. The feedback in the players' report, compiled by Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the Rugby Players' Association, is the most damning.
The most opprobrium is reserved for Brian Smith, the attack coach. "To see an international coach being described as indecisive, out of his depth, difficult to talk to, 'simply not good enough' is so damning, it is beyond belief," Hopley's report concludes.
Another said the nadir came when Smith, it is claimed, copied a move off the Romanians. "When you start copying Romanian moves, you know you're in trouble."
Mike Ford, the defence coach, was criticised for consistently using catch-phrases when "half the time we had no idea what he was talking about". One player said: "We have buzzwords at our club but the difference is they actually mean something and everyone knows exactly what they're meant to do."
John Wells, the forwards coach, got off more lightly. "There must be 20 coaches in the Premiership who'd be better," one player said. "He missed serious detail in lineout play."
There was agreement on the need for the coaching staff to be subjected to the same accountability as the players. "Coaches should be selected on competence like the players are. If a player isn't good enough, he is dropped. It has to be the same with coaches, but they kept their jobs in 2007, especially after we said that some of the coaches in 2007 weren't good enough.
"Why did they keep their jobs then? The main question on players' minds is who exactly is in charge of selecting these coaches and how do they get assessed every year? If players don't perform, we get dropped; on the other hand, the coaches just seem to go through an internal review and keep their jobs regardless."
Many players said the gulf between the approach at club level - which they support - and that of England was huge. "I've never played well in an England shirt," one said. "I try my best but I know the game plan doesn't suit me and I'm not confident because I don't believe in what we're following."
Another player said: "Since coming back to our clubs, everything has been so clear and simple. Everyone knows the policy. In the England camp there was no policy, there wasn't even a basic framework to play to."
"At our club, there is a brutally honest policy," another said. "If you mess up, you are bollocked and understand you have let your team-mates down. In England, there was a no blame/excuse culture where you swept things under the carpet."
It also emerged that there has been almost no dialogue between the coaching staff and the clubs, with Rowntree the only senior coach to have made regular visits to speak to teams. Only one Premiership club fed back they had met with the national coaches as a group in the last two years.
"It is clear that this [the England] environment is vastly different to those at their clubs where players are trusted, assured of ongoing support and have good working relationships with coaches and team-mates who share a vision in how they operate and in all aspects of their professional lives," the RPA report concluded. "This needs to be urgently addressed."
The team's preparation and training is also condemned. "We arrived at training on day one fresh, but by day four you were mentally drained and had been overcoached," one player is quoted as saying.
"Some of the younger guys trained their hearts out in pre-season and were mocked by some players. If you were talking to coaches you were laughed at for being keenos."
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