Brian Ashton: I applaud Farrell's decision... now they should go for Smith

Tackling The Issues

It takes a brave man – certainly a mature one – to turn down the chance of coaching England with a home World Cup on the distant horizon. As I know Andy Farrell to be both brave and mature, I cannot say I'm completely surprised by his decision to stay with Saracens for the foreseeable future. In fact, I think that he's probably made a wise choice. Andy will be missed in the England camp, for his contribution throughout the Six Nations was extremely positive, but I understand his reasons for passing up the opportunity to continue his work with the national team.

He must have been sorely tempted to throw in his lot with Twickenham. What coach wouldn't be tempted? But as Andy keeps saying himself, he is still new to the trade. At Saracens, he is expanding his knowledge and developing his skills in a vibrant learning environment, and this, I am sure, was the clinching factor.

I have written before about his authority, his presence and his ability as a motivator. How accomplished will he be when fully armed with technical knowledge in, say, four or five years' time? He could, and should, be outstanding.

In coaching, as in many other walks of life, there is a danger of flying too high, too soon. The crash-and-burn syndrome is very real. I can imagine Andy wondering if he really wanted to reach a pinnacle at 40 and then find himself thinking: "Is that it?"

He is happy at Saracens – no small thing when you consider how many people are unhappy in their jobs – and by staying put and building on the foundations which he has laid over the last two and a half years, he can prepare himself properly for the challenges ahead. Believe me, there will be many of them.

What should England do now? Going by what Stuart Lancaster said – before and after his appointment as head coach – they will surely keep things tight in terms of numbers. Stuart was happy to be part of a three-man team during the Six Nations – small is beautiful in this regard, because it minimises the risk of mixed messages – so I imagine he will stay with a similar format, perhaps bringing in a specialist kicking coach as and when necessary.

There has been a fair bit of confusion over the precise nature of Andy's role with England, and therefore the type of coach required now he has made his call. As far as I understand it, he concentrated largely on defence. He put forward some ideas on the attacking game, and it goes without saying that he was a key figure on the motivational side of things, but defence was the main focus.

In light of this, I see Wayne Smith, the New Zealander who helped coach the All Blacks to the world title last autumn, as a very strong candidate – always assuming he is available contractually and wants to relocate to the northern hemisphere. I know Wayne well, I'm familiar with his coaching philosophy and consider him one of the very best in the sport. He is very much a players' coach (not a description that applies to everyone) and, equally importantly, he has rich experience in all areas.

The successful New Zealand coaching team of Wayne, Graham Henry and Steve Hansen was based on a multi-discipline approach. A couple of years back, when Graham decided to shake things up by getting everyone to take on each other's responsibilities, I wrote a column in support of the move. I've never been comfortable with exclusive specialisation – it smacks of box-ticking. Far better to have coaches who are equipped to make a contribution in all areas.

Wayne is renowned as an attack coach, but he knows a hell of a lot about everything else. You don't reach the top in a rugby environment like New Zealand with big holes in your CV.

Demise of English clubs makes for compulsive viewing

I have to admit to leading a sedentary – not to say sad – existence over the Easter holiday. The absence of National League One business with Fylde gave me an opportunity to watch the four Heineken Cup knock-out games, preceded by a tasty, locally-produced hors d'oeuvre in the form of the St Helens-Wigan Super League match on Good Friday. Too much television is not to be recommended, but for the rugby follower it was compulsive viewing, with the good, the bad and the not-so intelligent approaches to the game all on show.

There was much to ponder: alongside the clear reaffirmation of the basic principles of winning rugby, there was plenty of evidence that when teams are on the back foot in the heat of battle, the automatic recourse to traditional thinking and the coaching-manual approach does not always stack up. No doubt this will become even more apparent as the tournament heads into its semi-final stage later this month – this time, much to the disappointment of English followers and the embarrassment of our domestic club movement.

The Aviva Premiership wheeled out Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all to proffer excuses for the English demise. For what it's worth, I'd single out a couple of shortcomings – the inability to adapt to circumstances and an alarming lack of flexibility in thought and deed – as principal reasons for our premature departure from European competitions.

Much to my regret, the role of the player wearing the No 12 shirt as joint conductor of the attacking orchestra has been almost completely marginalised in this part of the world. I was, therefore, most interested in the contributions of the various game-shapers at half-back. Let us start with Toulouse, for so long the consummate artists of the game in Europe. They fielded an extra back-row forward in the shape of the Australian scrum-half Luke Burgess, pairing him with the kick-driven Lionel Beauxis at No 10. And they paid the price.

Unable to secure parity, let alone establish superiority, against an Edinburgh side who played with a frightening tenacity and physicality up front, the situation cried out for a little flair from the Toulouse halves yet only on occasions did they stir themselves, looking far from comfortable as they did so. When, with Edinburgh down to 13 men, Beauxis received some quality line-out ball and immediately kicked it away so badly that it went directly back into touch, I almost switched off the television. This? From Toulouse? Dark moments indeed, for our game as a whole.

In contrast, Greig Laidlaw managed the Edinburgh game far more authoritatively than he managed Scotland during the Six Nations, his reading of situations and his instinctive knowledge of when to step in and out of the action allowing the marauding home forwards to stay in the faces of opponents who were, on paper, rather more illustrious.

Another international No 10, Jonathan Sexton of Ireland, helped orchestrate an outstanding 40 minutes of attacking rugby as Leinster settled their contest with an injury-hit Cardiff Blues in double-quick time. I have expressed my admiration for Sexton's abilities in previous columns, but it was intriguing on this occasion to see how much more comfortable he looked in the Dubliners' jersey than he has of late in the green shirt of his country. He was helped by the return from long-term injury of the inspirational Brian O'Driscoll, who was never far away from him in midfield. Leinster are genuine contenders once again.

"How did Ulster beat us?" That must have been the question on the lips of all Munster supporters at the end of an enthralling contest at Thomond Park. Certainly, the men from the north delivered a two-fingered salute to the maxim that matches are won on the basis of territory and possession. Twice during this ferocious game, a statistics panel flashed up on the screen to inform us that in separate 10-minute periods, Munster had 96 per cent of possession!

But if Munster had virtually all the ball, they did not have Ruan Pienaar. One of Ulster's influential South African contingent, he made the most of possession that came his way. Pienaar did what he felt was required rather than play the rugby he had been asked to play. What was I saying about players adapting to situations? And to cap it all, his goalkicking contribution was not bad, either. On that last point, we can say the same for the Clermont Auvergne outside-half Brock James, who was off the bench and on the field after just three minutes and, a dozen or so minutes later, had kicked three penalties that pretty much ended the challenge of Saracens for another year. Alongside him was Mor-gan Parra, an intuitive French No 9 who ensured that the English club's back division had nowhere to go.

All English followers were left praying for a rabbit out of the hat to tip the balance towards Saracens, but there was never the slightest sign of such an illusion. Saracens felt they were ready to move up a level from Premiership rugby. Clermont, a real powerhouse, informed them otherwise.

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album