PR exercise or worthwhile tour: England v New Zealand analysed
So, the tour is all done... the players are back and about to put their feet up for the next two months before returning to club duty, but did we get anything out of it, or was it just an Public Relations exercise that went horribly wrong?
The first thing to say is that there were some positives to come out of it, such as Danny Care's performance in the Second test, Topsy Ojo's performances in both tests, Tom Varndell's return to test rugby after a six year absence, and the all-round performances of England's back row forwards (Luke Narraway, Tom Rees and James Haskell).
But two defeats, and the alleged sex scandal in Christchurch later, it really was a PR exercise that went wrong! Four players involved in that escapade the night BEFORE the second test really is poor preparation on their part, and clearly showed their naivety in preparing for a huge Test match, and in the case of Danny Care, their international debut.
Over the 2 tests, two things really manifested themselves against a "rebuilding" All Blacks side. Firstly, Charlie Hodgson is no longer an international player. The restrictiveness of his attacking, and poor positional play in defence was shown to be embarassing by his opposite number Daniel Carter (who was the best player across the two games).
Secondly, the Johnson era needs to begin by giving some direction to the squad. The England side played devoid of ideas for much of the second test, and seemed clueless as to where they should be both in defence and attack. The All Blacks showed on numerous occasions how to break a defence down and get over the game line wherever possible.
England were unable to secure consistent set-piece ball from line-outs and scrums, and I lost count of the number of times that we turned the ball over at the breakdown through penalties, or being turned by an aggressive All Black pack.
The England side have a chance to redeem themselves when they reconvene in October to prepare for the Autumn Internationals against the Pacific Islands, and then games against Australia, New Zealand and World Champions South Africa at Twickenham.
Before then, Martin Johnson has a number of choices to make... does he stamp his authority on the side from day 1, or is it all about re-building ready for the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011? My guess is the Jonno will make his mark and stick with it.
There are a number of good youngsters coming through the ranks, and pushing for Test selection, such as Mark Banahan from Bath, Richard Haughton from Saracens, as well as Narraway, Haskell, Rees and Tom Croft from Leicester Tigers.
These are just a few of the names that spring to mind. Jonno also has make a decision on England star Jonny Wilkinson. Is Wilko the man to lead England into the World Cup in 2011, or is it time to run some new blood like Toby Flood (now of Leicester), Olly Barkley of Gloucester, or Shane Geraghty of London Irish as possible replacements in the Fly-Half position?
I have to believe that after the debacle of the tour we have just witnessed, we need to have some stability, but bring the fresh blood into the squad and use Wilko as a mentor for them, just as Will Carling and Charlie Hodgson were mentors for Wilkinson when he first came onto the scene.
It is imperative that the England side focuses on getting themselves back on track, and use the Autumn Internationals to fully prepare for the 2009 Six Nations Championships, and not use them as an experimentation to see if something might work if required.
We need stability in the side, and on the sideline. We now have it, so let's utilise it and get back to where we once belonged..... On top of the world!!!
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