The State of Play: England Rugby Team

Simon LongdenCorrespondent IJune 18, 2008

Oh what a conundrum we find ourselves in. I have only written my first article in the last hour but i shall persevere and look at wider issues surrounding England at the moment. Coaching changes, injury, bad selection, under par performances, these words so often batted around about England rugby and often they have been warranted but pointing fingers gets you no where. Unless you point them at the RFU, in which case you have a fair point also.

Allow me if you will to take you back to 2007 and the World Cup held in France. We had scraped through the Aussies with guts and determination (mainly the large guts of the scrum who demolished the Wallabies), then onto a French side playing another semi-final against a determined England outfit, again we managed it. Then the big one, the final. A gutsy and spirited performance by an England team finally looking to be showing the signs of a quality outfit to build upon lost out to South Africa, but in as nowhere near as poorer fashion as the 26-0 outing at the start of the pool stages. Considering what had been achieved, which was quite frankly miraculous. I thought Ashton had proved there was life in this England squad and it could be built upon after the inevitable list of retirees. I found myself feeling sorry for Ashton then when he was unceremoniously dumped by the RFU. Ashton had never been given a long term contract, so even if he had wiped the slate clean and tried to start something (remembering it took Clive Woodward 7 years to create a team of world beaters) he would never have survived the losses that came with creating a new team. This showed that the RFU were never really in 100% support of Ashton, so there would always be an air of doubt hanging over his head from those above.

But things change we move on. Then the rumour mill begins to turn, "Martin Johnson could be England Team Manager". Every ones ears pricked up, the messiah was returning to help his people back to glory, beginning with the slaying of Goliath (in this case the All Blacks). No, wait a second, that's not Johnson on the plane and doing all the interviews, that seems to be a small man wearing spectacles who used to be a great player by the name of Rob Andrew. Johnson was never going to go on the tour yet this would be his team. Well it's not, because most the final selections came after the Barbarians game, which Andrew was in charge of (and that's wasn't exactly breaking down the walls of Jericho was it). And now there out there he is the one making all the changes, and he finds himself, ironically, in Brian Ashtons old shoes. He is in a short term role and is simply now picking a team that has less chance of losing rather than a team that will put on a show and give it a go when there is now nothing to lose.

The last test was dire in some places, but potentially fantastic in others (Narraway, Haskell and Rees come to mind as a potent back row unit) and we yet again find that the England team is rebuilding. As far as i know, England rugby has been rebuilding since around 24 hours after Wilkinson dropped goaled for glory in Austrlaia. Robinson was rebuilding, the nhe was axed, Ashton was rebuilding after Robinson and he was aced, now it's Martin Johnson's turn to to rebuild, but we all have unequivical faith in Johnson both as a man manager but also as a man who has a wealth of experience of playing at the highest level but also a man with a deeper understnading than most of the game of rugby union. If he picks the in form players in the right positions, inspires them in  a way only he can, and creates a winning mentality within the England set up then we will see players (and we have many who are potentially world beaters) come to light and hoist the Webb Ellis cup once more

Lets hope he is allowed the full rein of power he should get get and frankly Brian Ashton should have got. Perhaps if he had been given the job in confidence with a lengthy contract Ashton might still be in charge? But now i am very much looking forward to see what direction Johnson can pull england rugby in, hopefully out the ditches of despair and back onto the road to glory for 2011.