Dallaglio attacks England chaos as 'Life of Brian'

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The Independent Online

It is official. There was player power and dissent in the England camp before and during the Rugby World Cup.

Brian Ashton, who masterminded England's resurgence and helped the defending champions reach the final, has come under attack from two of England's most senior players.

In what could be taken for an orchestrated move, the England coach was hit by a double whammy from Lawrence Dallaglio and Mike Catt when their respective autobiographies were serialised in two Sunday newspapers yesterday.

Both players have attacked Ashton, accusing his England set-up of being "rudderless". Indeed, if Dallaglio and Catt are to be believed, it is a miracle the side managed to reach the final after their disastrous start.

Extracts from Dallaglio's book, It's In the Blood: My Life appeared in The Sunday Times and he likened the state in which England found themselves to a Monty Python comedy.

Dallaglio wrote: "Somehow we'd managed to turn our World Cup campaign into a Monty Python sketch – called The Life of Brian.

"Head coach of the England team demands management skills that Brian does not have. We had a head coach who wanted one thing, other coaches who wanted other things. The players hadn't a clue what was going on."

He added that a difference of opinion among Ashton and his assistant coaches had left the England players feeling like a "pub team".

Dallaglio, who has won 85 England caps, said of the coaching team, Ashton, John Wells (forwards) and Mike Ford (defence): "You expected them to be singing from the same hymn sheet and supporting each other in everything they said to the players.

"But I don't think that was how it was. Not from where I was sitting. It seemed to me the difficulty lay in Brian's personality and the issue of whether he is particularly comfortable in the role of overall boss.

"Had a stranger walked in on any training session before the World Cup he would not have had a clue who was in charge."

Dallaglio confirmed that after the 36-0 defeat in the pool match against South Africa the players held a meeting at which they challenged Ashton to take control of events and give them more guidance.

"It was a tough meeting for Brian, something you realised when you heard Olly Barkley, who had worked with Brian at Bath, say: 'Look, Brian, no one's got a clue how we're supposed to be playing here. If you asked the 15 players who played against South Africa to write down the game plan, you'd get 15 different answers.' It was harsh but it was true."

Catt, who yesterday announced his retirement from Test rugby, having won 75 caps, played under Ashton in Bath's glory years and had always been a staunch supporter of the Lancastrian.

However, he has admitted in his autobiography, Landing on My Feet: My Story, extracts of which were serialised in the Mail on Sunday yesterday: "I had always liked Brian's no-frills, plain-speaking way but from the start it was a struggle. There was no momentum carrying the team to France.

"Nine weeks out from the start of the World Cup, it seemed to me that Brian did not have any idea who he was going to pick. There were still 46 players in the squad.

"A senior players' meeting was called at which we voiced concern that time was running out and we were working with too big a squad."

Catt also accused Ashton's team of being underprepared, citing the example of the question of who was to play fly-half in the first match against South Africa when Jonny Wilkinson and Barkley were injured.

"I saw Andy Farrell," Catt said. "He told me he had just had an hour's meeting with Brian and he was now playing fly-half. I was gobsmacked. I had played international rugby at 10, Farrell had not even played one game of club rugby in the position.

"I phoned Brian and told him that I wanted to be at 10. At Brian's press conference on the day before the South Africa game, he was pressed about who exactly would be wearing the number 10 shirt, he eventually said, 'As an educated guess, Catt will play 10 and Farrell 12'." And that is where they lined up.

But Catt added: "Brian seemed to be in a state of confusion. I thought of packing my bags and going home. The squad seemed to me to be rudderless, this was the day before England played South Africa in the biggest match played by either country in four years.

"I had assumed that on the morning after the US game we would have woken to find a sheet posted under the door containing all the moves for South Africa. There was nothing. We didn't even have any video clips.

"I found it very sad, not so much for myself, as it was my fourth World Cup, but for others experiencing their first tournament. They should have been buzzing, yet 99 per cent of the squad seemed not to be happy."

Last night, the Bristol coach, Richard Hill, was critical of such things being made public. "The average rugby supporter thought what a fantastic achievement it was for England to reach the final," he said. "So for any player in that squad to come out and criticise any part of that achievement publicly, is just being very disloyal. Particularly with the euphoria and the enjoyment the supporters got from England getting to a final they hadn't been expected to reach. So this sort of thing is not for public consumption."

Rob Andrew, the Rugby Football Union's elite director of rugby, is in the process of conducting a review, not only of England's World Cup performance but also over the previous four years. There is speculation that Ashton could be sacked and replaced by Jake White, who guided South Africa to victory in the final over England.