Rugby World Cup 2011: Last Round for Martin Johnson's England Rugby Team

Azzurri NZContributor IIIOctober 9, 2011

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 08:  (L-R) Chris Ashton, Lewis Moody, Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi of England look dejected during quarter final two of the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup between England and France at Eden Park on October 8, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Sorry England. As in, that was a "sorry England performance."

Where no team can beat England is column centimetres generated. However, the England headlines are usually headache creators rather than cause for celebrations. Off the field, on the field, offsides and online; this was a World Cup where England scored poor marks across all domains.

One things for certain is that Eve (as in Adam and Eve) must have been English. Maybe a well endowed Mancunian or Geordie lass, whose cleavage was too hard to resist. Since those ancient biblical times this gene of weakness has been passed down through generations of Englishmen. Seemingly running most active amongst their sportsman. Especially those sportsman who travel afar in teams, surrounded by others who share the same genetic trait.

I have a great business idea, to set up a training clinic which teaches self-discipline to English sportsmen. There's certainly a demand for it. However, I would definitely want to be paid a retainer (with no at risk remuneration) as there's some hard yards to be covered here.

England always cling to the defence that what happens with us is happening in other teams. This is 100 percent correct, but it's always the English who get caught. Their exploits are such that it is obvious that discretion is never on the agenda as the English partake in another bender.

The English always feel set upon up by their compatriot journalists. The proverbial foxes to the tabloid hounds. However, given these tough economic times, the newspapers would not bother sending their people down here unless there was a high probability of a story being uncovered.

The red top papers, after all, give minimal attention to rugby in their sports pages, what they really want is some meaty tidbits for the front section. 

QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 15:  The England team take to the pitch during an England IRB Rugby World Cup 2011 training session at Queenstown Events Centre on September 15, 2011 in Queenstown, New Zealand.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

This tournament has shown that England rugby team is more capable of feeding stories to the fourth estate, than they are quality ball to their back line. 

In some regards, England were set-up in being assigned Queenstown as their training location for the first rounds of the tournament. Originally, England were down to be based in Christchurch. A city environment that offers a supportive ex-pat population and plenty of nooks and crannies. However, nature played a tragic hand with that plan.

Queenstown is an idyllic spot that has been developed into a tourist's paradise.The southern jewel is isolated in approach. It's somewhere you need to purposefully journey to, it's definitely not a place you can just pass through. 

It's location makes it a bit of a funnel, a depot town that sits in a basin surrounded by mountains that stand like barriers created by gods. This basin effect makes it like an amphitheatre where spotlights can be easily beamed on special guests.  

So the English were given this stage. This tourist town which offers a series of nightspots which are conveniently located within a few blocks of each other, and boy did they perform.   

The main actor was the captain, who had only weeks earlier married the Queen's granddaughter. The English could not have scripted a more interesting story. A story Shakespeare would have envied.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 01:  Richie Vernon of Scotland tackles Mike Tindall of England during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool B match between England and Scotland at Eden Park on October 1, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/G
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

For the course of true love never did run smooth is a line lifted from the bard's A Midsummer Nights Dream. However, for the English, the lines Tindall put together for that mystery blonde (the old friend of the family) were soon to become "A Mid-tournament Nightmare" for the national rugby team. England's basin of despair deepened as CCTV footage of Tindall's performance was shared with audiences outside of Queenstown's amphitheatre.

The sadness for Tindall is that during the course of this world cup nothing did run smooth for him. With the ball in hand (and without it) Tindall was not able to impress. I can't recollect him making any smooth piercing runs while on the field. The CCTV footage showed signs of Tindall being smoothed, unfortunately this was not the performance the English rugby fans, or his wife, wanted to see.

For if it's England's strength to create stories, their weakness if definitely in finding appropriate endings.

In New Zealand, it's emerged that All Black winger Cory Jane participated in a drinking binge, a few days before the quarter finals. The response from Colin Shand, the All Black's manager, was this hefty statement: 

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 09:  Martin Johnson, the England manager, faces the media at a conference held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on October 9, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

"They are the ones who are going to face the consequences now because they are going to be known—particularly across the country—as the guys who let the team down." The "they" Shand refers to are Cory Jane and Israel Dagg (whose injury prevents him from playing in the weekend).

And there lies the difference. The conclusion. Shand's admonishment puts Jane correctly in his place. The punishment is the cold reality that you have let a lot of people down. Henceforward your reputation is tarnished. The All Blacks will support Jane to make amends, but the first step is Cory being able to man up and take ownership for what he's done.

As England looks for explanations for why their campaign has ended so tragically, the starting point is leadership. Martin Johnson was a very capable on-field leader, after all he is only one of six men to captain their country to World Cup glory. This strength proved to be Johnson's weakness, he could not remove himself from his old responsibilities as being England captain.

One only needs to compare the Mike Tindall conference with the one that was arranged for All Black winger Zac Guildford. Stories of inappropriate behaviour involving Guildford emerged early on in the tournament. All Blacks managers quickly quelled those rumours by getting Zac to face the press (in essence the country) and saying sorry for what he'd done.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 08:   Jonny Wilkinson of England  looks on during quarter final two of the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup between England and France at Eden Park on October 8, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

With Tindall, the English set the rule that only rugby was to be discussed at the press conference. When the opportunity was put to Tindall to say sorry, Johnson acted as his bodyguard and shielded his captain from public rebuke.

However, there's a huge difference between being captain and coach. A manager needs experience in understanding the concept that it's your leadership that separates you from the boys.    

Sadly, this was an England team that lacked leadership. This was the most penalised team at the tournament.They had problems with all sorts of breakdowns. Problems with communication became apparent in the first game. The referee, Bryce Lawrence, gave numerous warnings to England.

Oddly, it was Nick Easter who came forward to receive these warnings and not Tindall. Even more alarming was that Easter did not immediately share any messages with his team mates. It was no real surprise when Dan Cole got yellow carded.

In all their games England started poorly. It was only after the team received their half time bollocking from Johnson that they became capable of putting together match winning performances. More signs of how dependent they were on Johnson, and how it seems the big guy did not effectively delegate leadership roles to his players.

In fairness to the English, during pool play, they did show an ability to close out games. However, in reality, the results provided false comfort to the manner of victory. The strategy of grinding out victories was to be too one dimensional when it came to playing the better teams in the later stages of the tournament.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 08: Maxime Medard (L) and Vincent Clerc of France celebrate victory after quarter final two of the 2011 IRB Rugby World Cup between England and France at Eden Park on October 8, 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.  (Photo by Dav
David Rogers/Getty Images

England had some good outside backs. They just didn't get good balls to them. In the French game, when the ball made it out to Cueto and Ashton they dropped it. The shock of receiving the ball was too much for them to handle. 

Selections is another curiosity. Sky TV rugby correspondent, Stuart Barnes felt Johnson put too much faith in the survivors of the 2003 World Cup. Again another sign that Johnson had not moved on from his captaining days. He was too comfortable in being surrounded by familiar faces. For Barnes, where Johnson has most failed England is in not developing players.

The way Johnson clung to Jonny Wilkinson, was almost like Marcello Lippi and Fabio Cannavaro. Sure loyalty is a nice quality, but sometimes it sadly inspires poor strategies for winning world cups.

Throughout the tournament it seemed that Wilkinson was suffering. Incapable of finding the form of old. All sorts of things were blamed (more balls-ups for the English). Each time Wilkinson came off, Toby Flood would be slotted in at flyhalf and would use his pass and skill to unleash his back line. The way the team improved when Flood was there was something that Johnson should of seen. 

Yes, maybe he was blinded by loyalty. Johnson must be a nostalgic at heart. The problem now being the fantastic memories we have of Wilkinson will some what be eroded by the displays he put on over the past few weeks.   

So the last word goes to the French. Revenge at last for their being knocked out by the English in the 1991 (quarter finals) and 2003, 2007 (semi-finals) tournaments. They say this was a different French team to the one that lost to Tonga. In reality, is this more a case of the French were playing a different team? One they were more able to beat. 


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