Let the revolution start here
June 16, 2010
Mathew Tait and Jonny Wilkinson trudge from the field in Perth © Getty Images
"You're going backwards" read the headline. It was actually Franz Beckenbauer's damning assessment of England's football team under Fabio Capello, but it would have been just as appropriate for the rugby team under Martin Johnson.
The only difference is that the rugby team have contrived to go backwards despite powering forward in the scrums - the area of the game that is supposed to create the platform from which a team can attack.
I can honestly say I have never seen a more one-dimensional side than England at the moment. They absolutely destroyed Australia's scrum - to the point where referee Nigel Owens should have ordered uncontested scrums for safety reasons - but were so inept they still could not cross the Wallabies' line and had to rely on penalty tries instead.
The 10-minute period at the end of the first-half was hugely embarrassing. Despite hammering away virtually non-stop they could not batter their way over and had neither the nous nor the will to try something different. What an indictment of the England game plan. There appeared to be absolutely no leadership on the field at all. It looked as if they were under orders and nobody dared to disobey.
With such a physical approach to what was supposed to be attacking rugby you would at least have expected resolute defence but England were woeful in that department too - falling off tackles everywhere as the Wallabies thought on their feet and used their running and passing skills to probe the gaps rather than trying to run straight through the man opposite. There was another oddity. For all their frailty in the front row Australia actually outmuscled England in every other aspect of forward play - those that involved movement as well as brute force.
What have the backs been practising for the past few weeks? Not only could they not string a passing movement together but their kicking and chasing game was also hopelessly inadequate by their own admission. Nothing worked apart from the scrum. This was not just a bad early tour performance, it was a catastrophe, and for all the soul searching from the England camp nobody has come up with reasons.
Yesterday we were led to believe that Martin Johnson and the coaching team had 'questioned their roles' but it turned out to be the same old platitudes from the England Manager.
"Of course you question what you do," he said. "None of us is hiding from the issues. Guys will put their hands up. It's not a question of a finger pointing exercise, it's a question of getting better."
Fine, Martin, but that means absolutely nothing - just more empty words. You simply cannot continue through to the World Cup with the same coaching team in place. Johnson was always going to be a guy who believed in evolution rather than revolution but he has proved more conservative than anybody expected and the coaches are at the heart of it.
The forwards coaching is totally Leicester-centric with Johnson himself presumably adding his thoughts to those of John Wells and Graham Rowntree. The trouble is that it is old Leicester. The new Leicester pack is a formidable scrummaging unit but it is not fixated by the scrum. Johnson has to address this.
He also needs to consider the contribution of his defence coach, Mike Ford. He was much praised when he first came into the job but now the statistics tell a very different story. Against southern hemisphere sides England have shipped an average of 32 points a game since he has been in charge. That is an appalling record and a defence coach has to stand or fall by the number of points conceded.
There are obviously big failings in attack but I feel almost sorry for the backs. The ball they are receiving is so slow they have few options. Until the forwards start to play with greater urgency and produce some quick ball going forward they will have no chance.
That said, I am starting to question whether Toby Flood will ever make it as a fly-half at the top level. He never quite looks comfortable as the pivot and appears to be calling the plays by numbers instead of reacting as the situation requires. All the great No.10s are confident and subtle. He is neither.
Jonny Wilkinson would probably be a better bet with England playing as they are at the moment but that is not the answer. English club sides showed in the final weeks of the domestic season that they can play at tempo and the national side has to follow suit.
Johnson and Co. have to select accordingly for this weekend and try to match the exuberant Australians for pace instead of just relying on their strength in the scrums. Even if they do succeed in bludgeoning Australia to defeat they know it will not work against South Africa and New Zealand so there is no time to lose. Let the revolution start here!
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh
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