Management and personnel under scrutiny

David Llewellyn says it is about time the England selectors replaced the same old excuses with serious action
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The Independent Online
Everyone is entitled to a bad day at the office, but not all at the same time. And not quite as bad as this was. The howls of rage and jeers of derision which hounded England's players into the tunnel after one of their most inept performances yet suggest that the country has had a bellyful of bull.

You can talk a great game until forever, but it seems in the last 18 months or so that while England's management has done the talking the rest of the rugby world - most notably the southern hemisphere, which also includes a much-improved Argentina - has put the theory into practice.

In an office environment, when a problem is identified it is management's job to solve it, and generally quickly. If a staff member is not producing the goods you can be sure that in the commercial world changes in personnel will follow. Well, out there it is a professional world; mistakes cost money.

It is now also a commercial world in rugby yet Jack Rowell, high-powered executive in the business world, admitted after Saturday's sorry affair: "We have not resolved certain issues, but they are not going to be readily resolved. You are not going to resolve them in three weeks."

No one expected Rowell and his colleagues to achieve it in that short time. But fans - the 57,000 or so who bothered to go - left Twickenham questioning whether England will ever get things right. And they are well aware that in fact Rowell has had a great deal longer than three weeks to solve the issues - the back-row and the half-backs as well as the over-abundance of centres. How much longer must the rugby public be treated to the line, now wearing extremely thin, that England can go on and learn from this? That tired old phrase is being repeated after every match, win or lose.

The scrum-half Andy Gomarsall said after the game: "I was pleased with my performance today. It was a stronger performance than the one against the New Zealand Barbarians. I feel that I am more confident under pressure now and I thought the game I played I varied pretty well."

Contrast that with what Mike Slemen, a member of the England coaching team and selector along with Les Cusworth and Rowell, had to say. "I think Andy Gomarsall and Catt would admit that they didn't play very well." Slemen did not spare anyone. "The performance today was flat. It was below par. That was a poor performance."

The backs - with the honourable exception of Jeremy Guscott - repeated errors of previous matches when passes were high and slightly behind the target. On the rare occasion that a pass was delivered into the right area, Nick Beal was able to run on to the ball from Will Carling and hit space at pace, opening up options.

Slemen agreed: "You should put the ball in front of the player because you want them to come on to the ball and attack the space. Les Cusworth is addressing that aspect." But he pinpointed an area where he felt things went wrong for England.

"I think it is the decision-making on when the ball is released which is as important as anything. Ball must be released which is going to allow the backs to run on to it. If it is too slow then the half-backs are always having to force the pace."

There were chances created. The lock Martin Johnson was penalised for making a double movement in an effort to touch the ball down after a 12th- minute drive up to Argentina's line. But he denied throwing a punch at scrum-half Nicolas Fernandez Miranda - the resultant penalty after a touch judge's intervention nullified Guscott's superbly taken try after 65 minutes.

"The guy had come offside. I didn't punch him," he said. "I tried to get him in my arm and stop him coming over the ball. I hit him with my arm. When I realised Jerry's try had been disallowed I was pretty fed up."

So was the crowd. After this confused preparation for the Five Nations' championship, it is tempting to speak of flannelled fools and muddled oafs.