Whoever gets the England job must start by inflicting shock of the new

Johnson successor must not worry about Six Nations results as much as blooding kids for next World Cup

Six days ago, the 20-year-old Saracens midfielder Owen Farrell played a Heineken Cup blinder against the Italians of Treviso, as did two fellow members of the Premiership team's brilliant brat pack, the wing James Short and the flanker Andy Saull.

The crowd at Vicarage Road was not quite of world-record proportions – for a club game in these islands, it missed the mark by approximately 80,000 – but the youngsters would have felt a whole lot better about life had the 5,077 gate been a 5,078 gate instead. Sadly for them, nobody from the England hierarchy was at the rickety old stadium in Watford to gauge their progress. Not a single soul.

This is where national rugby affairs currently stand, and it is a perilous place to be sure. The Grimpen Mire of Dartmoor seems solid ground by comparison. A new elite squad is scheduled to be named in 40 days' time and the 2012 Six Nations Championship is a mere 11 weeks distant, yet there is no guarantee – there may not even be much chance – that Martin Johnson's successor as head honcho will be in place in time to pick the first or prepare for the second. And to think that Geoff Cooke, that ultra-successful red-rose coach of the late 1980s and early '90s, felt able to say this week that there was no need for the great and good of Twickenham, such as they are, to start rushing.

Yet there is a positive side to all this. The new manager-cum-coach will, assuming the Rugby Football Union identifies its preferred candidate sooner rather than later and does not mess up the contractual negotiations to such an extent that everyone ends up in front of Mr Justice Cocklecarrot at the High Court, have virtually an entire World Cup cycle in which to make some sense of this England farrago: to restore some dignity and authority to the national set-up – instil some discipline, develop something resembling a professional culture and, dare we say it, get the team playing some rugby worth watching.

Where to start? By taking an axe to the squad selected for duty at the World Cup and hacking off at least a third of it. Five senior members of that party are already players of the past: the captain Lewis Moody has retired from international rugby; Mike Tindall is history because he behaved like a fool in a very public place; Jonny Wilkinson, Simon Shaw and Tom Palmer are off-limits because they are playing their club rugby in France and are therefore ineligible under new selection rules. A sixth man, James Haskell, is also abroad and will not feature in the Six Nations, but as he has a future ahead of him rather than behind him, he is likely to return to the elite group when he resurfaces at Wasps next summer.

We can, and certainly should, add to this list at least half a dozen players – Mark Cueto and Shontayne Hape, Andrew Sheridan and Steve Thompson, Louis Deacon and Nick Easter – who have no realistic prospect of making it to 2015. Cueto and Easter have something to offer England over the next 12 months, as would Sheridan if he could only keep himself fit, but what in God's name is the point? As Johnson himself said in bidding his farewells on Wednesday, modern international rugby is about the World Cup and nothing but the World Cup, save a short and breathless spell of Lions business between tournaments.

Sir Clive Woodward might see it another way, given his oft-repeated dictum that "the only thing that matters is the next game", and his view must count for something. He did win a world title, after all. But one of the most successful current coaches, Warren Gatland of Wales, believes that argument to be old hat. "Some people take this whole World Cup cycle thing more seriously than others, but I'm very definitely conscious of it and it plays a big part in my thinking," he told this newspaper as he was drawing up his plans for this year's tournament.

"You don't arrive at a World Cup in the best possible shape – with depth and experience in your squad, with your players in peak physical condition – by delaying taking the hard decisions and throwing things together at the last minute. If I thought one of my players wasn't going to make it to a World Cup, he wouldn't be in the side. I'd say: 'Sorry, but thanks for everything'." Given the Welsh performance levels in New Zealand, the queue of people waiting to tell him he's wrong should be very short indeed.

Andy Robinson, who succeeded Woodward in the England job, once said that team-building opportunities were at a premium because certain members of the Twickenham hierarchy, most notably the then chief executive Francis Baron, measured every international defeat in pounds, shillings and pence: lost replica shirt sales, basically. The idea of a little Six Nations slippage being tolerated for the long-term good was for the birds.

But now, as the RFU searches for fragments of hope with which to shore itself against the ruins of Johnson's regime, there might be a coming to terms with the notion in the way the French came to terms with it at the start of Marc Lièvremont's tenure. The new coach should be able to persuade his employers, as Lièvremont did, that the reintegration of those boundary-pushing, game-expanding talents spurned by Johnson – the exiled outside-half Danny Cipriani being the most obvious example – will take more than a couple of months. Apart from anything else, the chief executive will be as new to Planet Twickenham as he is, and therefore in the worst possible position to argue.

The moment the new coaching team is put in place, they should think proactively about the Farrells and Saulls and Jamie Gibsons, the likes of Joe Marler and Henry Trinder and Charlie Sharples. No one in his right mind would blood them simultaneously against the Scots in Edinburgh on the first weekend in February, but there is comfortably enough room in a 32-man elite squad to accommodate them: to involve them fully in training and to give them a run over the course of a tournament where, just for once, victory is not the thing that matters.

When he sits down and thinks about it, Woodward himself will concur, for he found himself in one of these rare moments, right at the start of his stewardship of the national team. At that point, he was so open to suggestion, so keen to embrace every strand of thought, that he even encouraged members of the media to push selection ideas his way. (Johnson? He was just a little different, telling the press during the World Cup: "The moment you people influence what I do, you can criticise me to the ends of the earth.") When Woodward named his first side, for the drawn Test with the Wallabies at Twickenham in the autumn of 1997, a third of the starting line-up were on debut.

If ever England needed the shock of the new, the time is now. There is barely a professional club academy in the land that has not produced a youngster of Test potential over the last couple of years. Johnson's successor should not wait until 2014 to acknowledge the fact and act on it.

Foreign Legion: How overseas coaches are taking charge

Most of the leading candidates to replace Martin Johnson, including South African Nick Mallett, are foreigners. How has this worked with other England teams?

Fabio Capello

The 65-year-old Italian has endured mixed fortunes since taking over England's football side in 2008. After easing to the 2010 World Cup, England crashed out in the second round, losing 4-1 to Germany. Qualification for Euro 2012 is assured but Capello will leave his post after next year's tournament.

Andy Flower

The Zimbabwean's time in charge of the England cricket team has been a major success, winning the Ashes both home and away, securing their first ICC World Twenty20 trophy and topping the Test rankings.

Charles van Commenee

In his head coach role, the Dutchman has helped Great Britain's athletics team exceed medal targets at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships as well as the 2010 Euros. Next year's London Games present the ultimate test.

Jürgen Grobler

The German has become arguably the most successful rowing coach of all time since taking over in 1992. He has overseen a gold medal at every Olympics he has been involved in as well as golds at 10 different World Championships.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone