England Rugby is still recovering from its World Cup performances and the sacking of head coach Stuart Lancaster. Media conversations illustrate the point
The agonies of England’ s Rugby Union defeats in the World Cup may not have been lessened by the splendid victory of its Rugby League team yesterday in its International Series against New Zealand.
On March 1st, 2015, something strange happened at the start of a Six Nations International rugby match between Ireland and England. It was something I have never experienced before, although I must have watched several hundred such occasions since my schooldays
My story has some of the elements of a Sherlock Holmes puzzle, and I’ve described it in that spirit. Imagine, if you will, the following, as recounted in a message sent to the great detective.
Dear Mr Holmes,
I approach on behalf of a personage who holds high office in the land who has requested my help. Forgive me for disturbing you on a matter which is baffling to me. I can only hope that through the brilliance of your intellect that progress might be possible. Your success in the case of the missing Cambridge three-quarter encourages me that you will be prepared to help in this instance too.
I refer to an event that took place before the start of last Sunday’s rugby match. You will recall it was played in Dublin between the two undefeated teams in the annual Six Nations tournament. My state of agitation comes from an incident that occurred as I was watching the build-up to the match from the comfort of my sitting room, courtesy of the BBC’s televisual reporting
‘England aim to trample over New Zealand on road to world domination’ and I am writing this from a new pram on the planet ZogNovember 16, 2013
On the eve of the 2013 England v New Zealand rugby union international, the Guardian’s Rugby Union Correspondent Robert Kitson offered a remarkable analysis of what might happen. The article stands for itself but I couldn’t resist adding a few comments of my own.
Stuart Lancaster’s young side are surging up the world rankings and victory over the All Blacks may send them to a new level
[This is true. The surge has taken England from sixth to third in the rankings during the period when the New Zealand All Blacks comfortably retained the number one slot.]
It could be different …
What price would the bookies be quoting, if Alex Corbisiero, Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Marland Yarde and Christian Wade were all fit? Instead Paddy Power has England at 13-2 with the All Blacks 1-9, reflective of the home side’s imperfect build up.
[So the bookies think the victory somewhat unlikely, offering odds of 9 to 1 on for an All Blacks victory despite England’s aim to trample them.]
Nobody yet knows whether Stuart Lancaster’s new England are the real thing, or some other brand of cola.
[Nobody except our insightful Guardian columnist]
The Emperor’s new strip
Those who reckon they are overhyped and got lucky a year ago are still out there. If the English lose by 20-odd points it will be seized upon as proof that the Twickenham megastore is flogging the emperor’s new clothes.
[Not to mention the Guardian’s megastore? My previously private view was that England should be pleased if they keep the deficit in the match to less than 20 points.]
Lucky All Blacks
What if New Zealand are actually the lucky ones, fortunate to catch England’s fledglings now before they soar to a different level?
[Hard to fault this brilliant logic. The momentum is well and truly on Mr Kitson and England’s sweet charioteers.]
It’s the ref wot done it
England are an increasingly tough side to shake off in the final quarter and the referee, Craig Joubert, cannot possibly be as generous to New Zealand as he was in the fateful 2011 World Cup final against France.
[Ah, yes, New Zealand are the world champions because of a dodgy French-speaking South African referee who should have gone to Spec Savers. An easy obstacle to brush aside.]
Swing low, sweet chariot, bloo bloo chocky wocky
Either way, it will be closer than last time. New Zealand must remain favourites by virtue of their 12 straight wins this year. But England are more composed than 12 months ago and 13 is not always the luckiest of numbers.
[And I am writing this from a pram swinging softly in the breeze from a tree on the planet Zog, while plotting England’s rightful domination of the world of Rugby Union down there.]
England nearly fulfilled their dreams, losing narrowly. My remarks were shown to be unworthy. Well done England.
Sir Clive Woodward will be remembered as the England coach for the team that won the Rugby world cup in 2002. He is now a commentator for the BBC. I was particularly interested to learn insights from the thinking of a successful sporting leader. I found that over the last two weeks of rugby, he shared the human tendency to avoid challenging the reliability of his prior opinions in light of additional evidence.
Prior to the England Italy game
“It would be good for England to score five tries to put them in the right spirit for the game against Wales [the title decider, the following week]”
After the England Italy game
“The way they played against Italy is just the wake-up call to prepare them against Wales”
Before the Wales England game
“It will be tight but England should shade it.”
After the Wales England game [which Wales won 30-3]
“England will learn a lot from this defeat”
The next day
After the match, Sir Clive seemed to have had a spell of amnesia regarding his early remarks, telling the BBC
“The rest of the world would have taken notice of that, the bubble has been burst and teams would have seen who they [England] are and what they have to do to beat them.”
One English commentator pre-match had made a different assessment to Sir Clive in an article “Here’s why the whole of Wales and Scotland and Ireland want to see England humiliated”. It’s worth reading in full, to capture some of the dimensions of the “Arrogant English” charge leveled at its Rugby establishment.
More typical was the view expressed by another former England international, Mike Tindall, in his balanced analysis of why “England must be ready to face Cardiff’s cauldron of hate”
“England are by far the best team in the Six Nations. The most important thing about them is their base game. It’s of the highest standard and that will always keep you in a game.”
Image is from barryjphillips blogspot . Barry wrote a positive review of Sir Clive Woodward’s book Winning, saying he would like to deliver a pass to a rugby playing friend, but decided to retain possession.
Jim Mallinder is currently front-runner to replace Martin Johnson as England’s chief coach of Rugby. His Northampton Saints team yesterday displayed the strengths and weaknesses of England’s recent international performances
The Saints began their Heineken Cup campaign with their coach Jim Mallinder tipped as a replacement for Martin Johnson. It was inevitable that closer comparisons are being made between the style of Northampton under Mallinder and England under Johnson.
Sean Edwards backs Mallinder
I watched Northampton play the Scarlets yesterday [18th Nov 2011]. Before the [Sky] transmission, Sean Edwards offered positive views on Mallinder. Edwards had several qualifications for offering his opinions. He is an important part of the coaching squad which helped produce the currently successful Welsh national team.
The match was an interesting one if deeply flawed with technical errors. I was struck by the similarities in style of the Northants team and England’s teams since before their glorious World Cup victory led by Martin Johnson and coached by Clive Woodward, nearly two decades ago.
Plan A for The Saints (and England) is establishing dominance through powerful forwards. When it works it is very effective.
Not ‘one side playing, the other clapping’
But Rugby like other sports is not case of one side playing and the other clapping. As in game theory, any strategy interacts with that of the opponents. The Dragons arrived with leading members of the Welsh squad including Rhys Priestland and George North.
Plan A for the Scarlets is to rely on a young, strong and talented back division which can overcome limited possession against the strongest forward s of opposing teams. Much the same can be said of the Welsh international team at present.
When Plan A doesn’t work…
When Plan A doesn’t work, (often in hindsight) a different plan is called for. Plan A was expected to work for Northampton partly because they rarely lose at home. Their track record internationally is better than the Scarlets over a period of years.
Plan A seemed to be working for the Saints, as The Scarlets struggled to win ball from the scrums. But Northampton could not execute the plan. It could be said that the plan was fine, and it was its execution that failed. Much the same is said by disappointed strategists in business. In any event, there is always a need for a plan that can be implemented…
After the match, the inquests
Northampton Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder: “I think we were well beaten. I’m very disappointed with the way that we played. Scarlets came here and kicked very well and we didn’t handle that. We turned over too much ball and didn’t play the conditions as well as they did.”
Scarlets coach Nigel Davies: “We had to play a very good game of rugby to get a result here and that is what we did. This is pretty big against a side of Northampton’s quality. I don’t think they have lost a European encounter at home since 2007 so it is a big scalp for us. We have to build the momentum. The big thing has been belief, believing we can come to places like this.”
Like country like club?
Am I reading too much into the evidence of one game? As a student of management rather than rugby I guess so. But Northampton Plan A could be at least a metaphor for England Plan A. Even in losing, the Saints showed considerable muscular talent. The game last night at least goes some way to explain why Jim Mallinder is tipped as a future England coach. It may even explain why so often we get the leaders we deserve.
My second favourite team
Ireland happens to be my second favourite Rugby Union team, after that of Wales. It gave me no pleasure to read a fascinating story about a row brewing up between the rugby authorities, as reported in Wales on line.
Toby Faletau is unwittingly at the centre of an eligibility row between Wales and Ireland. The Wales No 8, who made his debut against the Barbarians a fortnight ago, finds himself embroiled in an eligibility dispute which the International Rugby Board has been asked to rule on. Two of Faletau’s Wales Under-20s team-mates, Matthew Jarvis and James Loxton are dual-qualified for Wales and Ireland.Former Ospreys back Jarvis and [Cardiff] Blues rookie Loxton agreed contracts with Irish province, Connacht, earlier this year only on the understanding they were eligible to play for Ireland
Turns out that Tongan Toby was brought up in Wales (so he’s Welsh, see?). But Matthew has an Irish mum and James has an Irish grandmother. These claims have been accepted as part of Ireland’s Grannies strategy. But as happens in things Celtic, it all got a bit more complicated.
The Under-20s is not the A team
Acute readers (and which LWD subscriber is not acute?) will have noticed mention of the three playing for the Welsh Under-20s team. So Wales get to keep Matthew and James? No, because The Under-20s is not the A team.
Irish club Connaught snap up the two on the understanding that Under-20s play is not automatic recognition of a claim on nationality.
The WRU claim that the Wales Under-20 side is now their second-string side, with the A-team being disbanded, and that any player who plays at that level commits themselves to Wales. But it is claimed that Faletau, who was born in Tonga but has resided in Wales since the age of seven, was the only player told his appearance for Wales Under-20s committed his Test future to Wales. While Loxton, who qualified for Ireland through his mother, and Jarvis, who qualifies via an Irish grandmother, claim they were never told playing for Wales Under-20s committed them to Wales.
Creative strategy needed
Anyone with suggestions or a creative strategy for resolving this issue get in touch with the Irish or Welsh rugby union boards according to your nationality.
Update [Nov 2011]
Toby Faletau was one of the stars of the successful Welsh team in the World Cup in New Zealand. His international future looks rosy (but definitely not Irish green).
Update [Jan 2012]
A similar case bubbles up over the nationality and international status of Steve Shingler, hotly persued by Scotland and Wales.