Still falling short
The rout may not have happened but Stuart Barnes still cannot see too many positives after England's loss.
Last Updated: 18/02/09 10:29am
Englishmen are queuing up to breathe a sigh of relief after defeat in Cardiff.
I'll sit this particular queue out, thank you very much. England picked a team with nothing in mind but stopping Wales and winning the match. They slowed Wales down but lost the match.
If you select a team with one eye on development then we can be positive on the areas of improvement. If the choices made are based on pragmatism, winning is the only measurement of the team.
Andy Goode and Mike Tindall along with Mark Cueto (who I thought had a decent game) were recalled along with Harry Ellis behind the scrum with Joe Worsley (magnificent in defeat but defeat none the less); it is a win only selection and England lost.
Six games played under the new manager, five of them at Twickenham, four of them losses, two of them routs and the victories against a team that had never won a match until they beat Italy and Italy themselves - at Twickenham for safe keeping. In the process Danny Cipriani, Shane Geraghty, Ben Foden and Steffon Armitage have been introduced and dropped. So what has been achieved?
To universally acknowledge a man-of-the-match performance from the heroic Wasp tells much about the state of the English rugby mind.
Good as he was he produced nothing positive with the ball in hand; in contrast Stephen Jones played a technically beautiful game, flat on the gain line, taking the hits but never before unloading accurate passes. He made breaks, he kicked beautifully and yet the team that lost by eight points have the man-of-the-match for his defensive efforts?
Then there is Jonathon Kaplan. He hates the English you know, I have heard it said before and doubtless we might hear it again. I have no idea what he thinks of England but if he does hate them does that mean every single referee who has been handing yellow cards and penalties to this ill-disciplined England team hates them too? Is Johnson's team losing because of an officiating conspiracy?
Go to Dublin and win with the same experienced side and then we can hail some progress; pick a few youngsters, play some daring and pacey attacking stuff and then we can hail progress but stick with the most experienced players available with defence in mind and lose again, then I can say is played seven lost five.
Wales surely should take more out of this match; they were below-par and won, England played their best rugby of the season and lost. More balance and variety is definitely required. Andy Powell sprinted bravely and unthinkingly into a trap. He needs to be (as do the team's tactics) more subtle while Gavin Henson's return would boost the team especially if Jamie Roberts is shifted out one position allowing Wales to punch with more variety than they managed in Cardiff.
France is next up but the Blues are hugely inconsistent in terms of selection and form. If Wales were average last Saturday France were awful. Wales have nothing to fear. Ireland made a meal of Rome but got the job done comfortably after a scrappy half.
Jamie Heaslip is mounting a series of performances which are making his selection for the Lions seem a formality and his inclusion in the test team a matter for strong debate; he and Jones were the two men who made most marks in my Lions notebook.Mike Blair was having a telling second half in Paris, causing mayhem in the French middle when Frank Hadden called his likeliest match winner and star performer off with eight minutes remaining. Sometimes you wonder. Now to this week's mail.
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JOBS FOR THE BOYS
One quick and I believe pertinent question....How have John Ford and Mike Wells kept their jobs in the England coaching set up? Our forwards are aimless, cannot clear out opposing players at the ruck and stroll into contact. They should be running full tilt at defender's shoulders to create holes and space, get an offloading game going and get past the gain line! As for England's defence, it lacks aggression, line speed is pedestrian at best, counter-rucking non-existent against higher quality teams. Huge aspects of England's defensive and forward game lack any kind of cohesion. Ford and Wells are the defence and forwards coach respectively, they have responsibility for this area, and it has been a shambles for too long now. They need to be let go.
STUART REPLIES: Andy, Sounds like the question is one of a distinctly rhetorical nature. Martin Johnson thinks they have done a great job since he took the reins of command, where does that leave you in your opinion of the manager as well as these coaches?
A CASE IN POINT
Stuart, I was just wondering if you could explain to me why the Six Nations Tournament hasn't adopted the more common system of four points for a win with bonus points available for scoring four or more tries or losing by seven or less as it would undoubtedly make some games, and surely the entire competition, more exciting.
STUART REPLIES: Daniel, We love our traditions, give the powers that be time, maybe ten years from now we will recognise that the bonus point system makes for a more exciting competition, especially when so few games are played because it makes the importance of that fourth try so important in the pursuit of the title. Having said that points difference works as well. There was a spectacular finish to a Six Nations tournament a few years ago with a last-gasp try winning the competition for France, I think. You can correct me if the memory fails but the point is that anything that forces teams to play positive rugby for eighty minutes is good news. I think the bonus point system, as you suggest, would add extra spark to the competition. Good point.
THE FREE MARKET
Stuart. As a Gloucester fan you might be surprised when I say I have an element of sympathy with Wasps. I read in the Sunday papers that James Haskell is all but signed with a French team. It would be easy to laugh at Wasps' position but I can't help worrying that when the likes of Sinbad and others come out of contract, I might not be laughing so audibly. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this affair because I'm some what ambivalent on the subject of the salary cap. I understand that there is a credit crunch and that teams like Bristol are struggling to get by as it is and how the salary cap gives them a token opportunity to compete on a level playing field. I fear though that should we continue along these lines, Haskell could soon be followed by a whole host of senior internationals. Who could blame them? Surely its time to let the English clubs free to invest and continue to go forward. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
STUART REPLIES: Kev, There are two ways of looking at this one, short and long term; the short term one fears the immediate potential pitfalls you describe the long term one fears bankruptcy and a broken club game. It is something of a reflection of the economy as a whole. I have never been a Free Market zealot in the Thatcher/Regan/Brown/Bush camp so I would rather see clubs keep their heads down and ride the storms and survive to thrive when we come through these times.
End of Barnes's economic viewpoint, end of questions for the week, keep 'em coming.