England's new coaching team is rather less than a fortnight old, but there is no shortage of confidence sloshing around the four-man collective. Mike Ford, the former Great Britain rugby league scrum-half who succeeded Phil Larder as defence coach after Twickenham's morning of the long knives in April, was particularly bullish yesterday, talking about a fresh sense of aggression in the world champions' tour party and a willingness to take risks against the Wallabies here on Sunday.
"Phil had been there too long," he said of his fellow cross-coder, telling it like it was in good northern fashion. "He would be the first to accept it, too. He was still doing a fine job, but people get tired of the same voice, the same drills. The players are ready for something different, and while we won't get everything right immediately, it's important to keep faith with the system we're putting in place ahead of the World Cup."
Ford is an ambitious sort, happy to back himself against the next man, whoever he may be. That much was evident in New Zealand this time last year, when, together with Gareth Jenkins of Wales and Ian McGeechan of Scotland, he guided the Lions' midweekers through a challenging run of matches without so much as a smudge on their reputation, let alone the stain of defeat. Many saw Shaun Edwards, of Wasps, as the natural successor to Larder, but Ford, less celebrated but equally clear-sighted, was a decisive first choice among members of the influential Club England committee.
"You can expect us to be more aggressive, to have the courage to spread our defensive line and put in some square-on hits," he said, when asked how a back division expected to include such inexperienced players as Mathew Tait and Peter Richards might approach the task of slamming the door on Chris Latham, Lote Tuqiri, Stirling Mortlock, Mat Rogers and Stephen Larkham. "You can also expect us to mix things up. I want to empower the players, to see them make decisions for themselves. Brian Ashton is certainly moving in that direction. I think the players are excited by the things we're introducing."
This weekend's meeting with Australia is the first of 16 fixtures leading into the 2007 World Cup in France, with precious few easy outings, so it was reassuring to hear Ford predict that England would be up to speed pretty damned quickly.
"I don't consider England to be in the same position as Ireland in 2002," he said. "Then, I had to tell Eddie O'Sullivan [the head coach] that it would take me two Six Nations tournaments to get a return. England have been working on their defence since before the 1999 World Cup - Phil Larder was with them for eight or nine years. It's a different situation entirely."Reuse content