The Friday Rant - 14.10.11
The time has come to vent my spleen upon the altar that is or perhaps was English rugby. Since our lame exit from the World Cup last weekend I have been seething inside all week about how truly dire England really are at one of the games that they actually invented, and it's about time I went off on one in a bid to clear my head and restore a degree of normality to my thinking. I just can't take any more of it. English rugby. Back in November 2003 it was a phrase that meant everything. We won the World Cup. We were on top of the world. Things were only going to get better and better..............hell, that magical morning was the last time I cried my eyes out. I blubbed as Jonny kicked that drop goal to win the World Cup. I think I might have actually kissed the TV screen. I used to smoke back then and I can remember waking up at 4.30am bricking myself about the final and chain smoking/mainlining coffee until that drop goal went over. That is how much rugby means to me. I love it with a serious passion, and I just can't bear that our national team has fallen so far.
How wrong we were to hope that such a mighty, crush all before you win would see a golden era for English rugby. It's been many years of pain having to watch England stumbling in the dark since then. I still can't work out how we got to the final of the 2007 World Cup, but in my head I have written it off as one of those freaky things that can and do happen in sport from time to time. In truth we have been dire since we won that 2003 World Cup, and it's about time the powers that be actually did something positive and recognised the fact. Why in the hell did the RFU ever let a situation occur that caused Clive Woodward to walk away ? The one guy who took English rugby by the scruff of the neck and said this is how we are going to do it, and did it, and then the dinosaurs at the RFU obviously made things so bad that Clive went and walked. We need him back, big time.
Now England are England. We are not going to play the kind of rugby that New Zealand plays for example, but then why should we want or need to ? The game of rugby is so awesome because teams can play it in so many different ways and still be the best. I love watching the All Blacks in full flow, when that ball goes wide from a turnover and like a pack of raging bulls they flood any tiny gaps with natural ball players and quick offloads. It's a sight that any rugby fan jumps for joy over. Bur our strengths have traditionally been a bit different, with an emphasis on forward domination. Or has it ? What in the hell was our pack doing against France last weekend ? Being completely outmuscled and outplayed, that is what we were doing. Remember Hill, Dallaglio and Back ? Now that was a world class back row if there ever was one. What in the hell is going on at the moment then ? What in the hell has happened to quick ball from rucks and mauls ? To watch as an English pack is pushed backwards, turnover good ball or simply be outmuscled brings tears to my eyes............
Why are we so bad ? Why have we been so consistently rubbish since Nov 2003 ? Sure, there have been glimpses of how good our players actually are like against Australia last autumn. We dared to hope again. We dared to believe that perhaps England had turned a corner and rediscovered a potent mix of backs and forward play. But how cruelly were those hopes dashed yet again as we stumbled through the Six Nations playing for the most part some frighteningly dull and uninspired rugby. On the one hand I was so looking forward to this World Cup, but on the other I knew deep down we would need a miracle to progress beyond the quarter finals. We all knew that, but we are English and we hope. We pray. It strikes me that we have all the talent in the world when it comes to the players, but for some reason they get into the elite set up and they then lose the ability to play heads up rugby and think for themselves out on the field. It seems that they start to play with a rigid and fixed game plan so ingrained in their minds that they can't then adapt to the game that is unfolding in front of them. But why ?
I am loathe to say this, because I believe that if there is a GOD then Martin Johnson might well be that GOD. As a player and a captain I think he was peerless. You can imagine the desire to go over the top with him as he turned that furrowed brow to look at you and implore that you follow him into battle. The passion. The commitment. What a man. But Martin Johnson as England Manager ? The jury has to be out on this. Either he is out of his depth or otherwise his coaching staff are quite simply not good enough. Look at the players we have got. Look at the talent levels. And now look at how little ball for example Chris Ashton has been getting recently for example. Look at our lack of penetration in the centre. Weep as the opposition reads our attacking lines with the ease that we might read the Adventures of Noddy. We have got the players to take on the world, but what the hell is going on with coaching these players within the England setup ? Bring back Clive and get some sense into the way things are done. Let the RFU dinosaurs go back to the land that time forgot and allow the real talent to get on with their jobs.
As much as I wish we had beaten France last weekend, in the long run that pathetic defeat is going to be good for us. Surely nobody can ignore the fact that wholesale changes are needed ? Surely this is the bottom line, and from now on English rugby is going to get better and better again. We invented the frigging game !! Do we dare hope as we always do, or do we go through another four years of pain until the next World Cup ? Nov 2003 is a long time ago now, but back then we had a team of leaders. A team stacked full of rugby players who were playing for each other, a team who could play head's up rugby and know how to win games. Sure, we won ugly at times, but winning is winning. That is the bottom line. Nobody remembers who comes second, and people don't remember how you won. You do what you need to do to win, and in 2003 you knew that we were going into that World Cup as the best side in the tournament. New Zealand might well play some stunning rugby that is a delight to watch, but when did they last win the World Cup ? An even longer time ago than us !!! Let's see what happens this weekend as well. I am hurting. I am emotional. I can't take any more of it. Do I give up on the England rugby team and turn to darts or bowls ? Do I stop punishing myself by watching their games and hoping all the time that yes, we could be great again ? Hell no. I am English, and I am stoical if nothing else. We sit there and take it. I have to believe that one day we are going to be great again, but I am a little worried that I might be rattling around on a Zimmer frame and talking about how great we used to be when English rugby does become great again. Kind of like I am at the moment then !! Without the Zimmer frame though.
Now I never, ever thought for one second that I would be saying this, and it pains me to do so, but - COME ON WALES. Could they really do it ? Phew......