Ghosts of the past
Dean Ryan says England's past will have an impact on how they play and perform in the World Cup.
By Dean Ryan
Last Updated: 17/08/11 2:09pm
Every sports team over the passage of time will have to stand and be judged by the number of games that it has won or lost and with the World Cup less than four weeks away nobody will be more aware of that fact than England's coaching team.
But after a lacklustre 19-9 loss to Wales on Saturday it is further back in time that we must look to find the real opportunities missed.
Every pundit who can find somebody to listen has been bemoaning the absence of creativity around England's play for some time and pinpointing certain individuals' lack of spark and rightly so, as other than glimpses of optimism, particularly in autumn's victory over Australia and their thumping of Italy in the Six Nations, there has been little for the purist to cheer.
Now some may say England's first Six Nations title for eight years is a tangible return but there lies the problem. England's mindset has purely been about winning the next game.
'What's wrong in that?' I can hear many shout, but it is no secret that any athlete or team that has had to carry the pressure of winning from week to week will find that the opportunity for significant development is sacrificed.
It is important in any team's cycle that there is a point in time where an aspirational game plan is prioritised. Something that everybody involved is striving to achieve.
This needs to be clearly set out and communicated by the coaching team. It shouldn't be something that is easily within reach in the short term but something that will involve players and coaches having to challenge one another to achieve over the long term.
Everybody will have to push the boundaries of their own skill levels to breaking point before they fully understand what their capabilities really are. Combinations should be changed and comfort zones obliterated before arriving at a deeper understanding of the nation's talents.
That may sound very rosy and there are graveyards full of coaches who preached about the wonderful visionary rugby they were going to create but were left unable to establish enough ticks in the win box. I would include myself at certain times during my career on that list.
But that in a nutshell is every coach's challenge. How do they keep their team moving towards that aspirational game in the sky and at the same time keep enough ticks in the win box to keep the wolves at bay?
When we look at the last 18 months it's hard to see where this spike in England's creativity has been with Martin Johnson choosing to create a winning environment generating confidence and stability as England's best route to the World Cup.
It is now too late for England to drastically reform their approach to the game and we shouldn't be surprised to see a return to a more limited game plan utilising the power of the forwards with the likes of Deacon, who had a noticeable return to the international arena alongside the growing talent of Courtney Lawes.
We are also more likely to see the return of a certain Johnny Wilkinson to guide and cajole the English power train.
If this is the case then we must quickly clarify this internally, as there is still much to improve on even within a more direct approach.
England's line out was clearly on top on Saturday with Lawes majestic at the back, but with this utilisation of people in different places within the line out we must ensure the need for others, particularly Easter who was asked to stand at two to ensure the priority of that first clear out in midfield is commanded in a manner that his boss would recognise. No game plan can sustain the amount of turnovers coughed up by England on Saturday.
With the commanding English scrum establishing a destructive platform we must also take every opportunity for points on offer. Turning down kicks at goal in favour of structured strike plays gave up any sign of thanks to the front row club, and were meat and drink to the outstanding Warburton and co.
The beauty of coaching has always been that you get to set up your team in the manner that you believe in and nobody has the right to say which way is right or wrong, only to highlight their own thoughts on the potential pitfalls of going down a certain pathway.
Stuck in the middle
But what is a serious problem is when a team gets caught between two stools.
Its too late now to throw new players into the fray hoping they might spark the creativity craved. It's too late to ask players to play out of position under the glaring spotlight of a World Cup and world-class opposition but it's not too late to refine and clarify the things that we are already good at.
Remember every sports team will always be remembered by what they won and lost, not how they went about doing it!