England seduced by their vision but lose sight of the battleground

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As long as England continue to concentrate more on style than on winning they will carry on suffering unexpected setbacks like they did in Paris last weekend. No matter how good a team are, winning should be their first and foremost objective. I am sure England would claim that winning is their top priority but the evidence suggests otherwise. And whereas I was surprised at Will Carling's criticisms last week, it is difficult to argue with the points that he made.

As long as England continue to concentrate more on style than on winning they will carry on suffering unexpected setbacks like they did in Paris last weekend. No matter how good a team are, winning should be their first and foremost objective. I am sure England would claim that winning is their top priority but the evidence suggests otherwise. And whereas I was surprised at Will Carling's criticisms last week, it is difficult to argue with the points that he made.

Four times England have faced a crucial Grand Slam match as red-hot favourites and four times they have flopped – on each occasion because winning was not uppermost in their minds.

Against Wales at Wembley in 1999, they rejected a relatively simple penalty kick at goal that would have sewn up the game and instead they attempted to kill off Wales with a try.

They wanted a flourish and they failed because of it. Wales were the team that produced the flourish through Scott Gibbs' memorable match-winning try. Can you imagine a southern hemisphere team making a decision like that?

Against Scotland the following year, it was the weather that foiled them. Although the conditions at Murrayfield were unsuitable for the way they wanted to play, they still went ahead anyway, and played the wrong way.

Against Ireland last October in the game postponed because of foot and mouth, they encountered some ferocious tackling and yet made no attempt to alter their tactics to introduce more kicking and switch the emphasis away from Ireland's strength.

Against France last week they again refused to change their game plan to combat a team who were in tremendous form.

England have so many talents and so much power, they could master any pattern of play. But they seem to have set their hearts on a certain style and when it works and they click together they are awesome.

But when it goes wrong they are unable or unwilling to adapt. Perhaps their self-confidence is such that they believe it will all come right in the end. They should lose that notion once and for all.

England need look no further than Leicester for the perfect example. Leicester can play brilliant rugby but when it is necessary they can grind out a victory without any regrets about failing to put on a show.

I think Clive Woodward has done a fantastic job and he is without doubt the man to take them to the World Cup, but there is a weakness in their approach. Maybe it is thinking about the World Cup that causes them to be so stubborn in sticking to the same style through thick and thin. That is a mistake.

Winning the match you are playing should be the only consideration. If they lose a vital game in next year's finals through an inability to be adaptable, that's it. It'll be four years before their next chance.

The players have been blamed for not changing tactics in Paris but why didn't the management send the word out? The only answer can be that they are content with their policy.

It was sad to see Jonny Wilkinson eclipsed after his great performance against Ireland. Having to play off the back foot is an entirely different experience for an outside-half.

Everything's fine when the pack is going forward and those around you are in close support but when you get late ball and have flankers like Olivier Magne and Serge Betsen charging in for the kill it can be very painful. You have to learn to get them to back off and the only way to do that is to entice them in and leave them clutching thin air at the last minute.

It's a bit like a bullfighter egging on the bull to charge in blindly and then stepping aside. It annoys and confuses them at the same time – and I mean flankers as well as bulls.

It is a skill that I would like to see Jonny develop more because there will be a whole herd of rampaging wing-forwards desperate to gore him in the World Cup.

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