I once took part in an anonymous survey at Saracens which made me extremely uncomfortable. There were certain things I didn't like at the club so I wrote them down, while trying to be positive wherever I could. As I handed it in, something clicked in me and I wrote my name at the top of the sheet of paper. I should, I thought, be willing to say these things to the faces of those concerned. In my view, "guaranteed" anonymity almost dares us to be disproportionately scandalous.
Thirteen years later, another survey has made stunning reading, although all these review snapshots have been just that: snapshots. Now I am not about to begin trying to convince anybody that all is well at Twickers – far from it – but remember, there seems not to have been much space given to positive comments made in these leaked reviews.
However, while it is never advisable to form strong opinions from snapshots, it would be equally remiss not to address some of these issues.
The subject of money is one that interests me deeply. Apologies if this is a touch unromantic, but I have never cared if a man playing alongside me is motivated by cash. Rugby, like any job, is made up of all sorts. To expect everyone to live to precisely the same values is naive.
What is also true is that money is very important. After all, my wage feeds my daughter and pays for the house I live in. When I negotiate a contract I always tell the club that the money has to be right – not silly money, but not a mickey-take either – because I, like all professional players, work extremely hard and expect to be appropriately remunerated.
I imagine this is no different from you. But what really motivates me is the honour of representing a rugby club I truly adore, trying my best to do the jersey justice, and the wonderful life afforded to the modern professional player. I would probably be earning more had I headed to the City after school, but I never wanted any other job.
However, I always giggle when I hear a player declare that he would "do it all for nothing". I would certainly still play rugby were I not professional, and I would do some training, too, because I love the game, but were I to do "all" that I do now for free, I would not have time for a job to cover my mortgage. On Tuesday I left home at 7am and returned at 5pm. This is not a complaint – I had a great day's training – but it is a full-time job.
One of the ugliest quotes I read was a World Cup player bemoaning the "35 grand down the toilet", having just lost to France. However you look at it, this ain't great. I think it acceptable to rue lost earnings, but rueing them a few minutes after limping out of the World Cup pushes the boundaries.
It would be fascinating to know – though I pray we never find out – who said that and how he performed. What if he had played out of his skin, given everything and looked willing to die for his country?
This changes things, in my opinion. Unconsciously, we seem to want this spoilt, cash- hungry beast to be one of the major underperformers, but he might be nothing of the sort.
I have played alongside men who never claimed to be any-thing other than mercenaries. Some didn't try hard enough, but one of them – I shan't name him – was one of the most motivated men I ever saw come game day. He was ferocious, he put body and soul into every contact, and then went home to count his money, we used to joke. Well, he helped us every week, so nobody was bothered.
Playing for England is an honour. There is – and always should be – massive pride associated with wearing your nation's rugby shirt. I only got picked a few times, but they remain pivotal days in my life. Even then (it was, ahem, a while ago) there were disputes about money. I was even, as a relative child, involved in the strike in 2001, which shows that the men who went on to win the Rugby World Cup in 2003 were also concerned about money.
The difference between 2001 and 2011, though, is that Lawrence Dallaglio and his team performed incredibly. Only from this position of strength, I feel, can one demand more. Otherwise, posture is compromised.
I try only to offer perspective, not to justify any of what has happened and been written. Take Johnno. I keep reading that "all the England team cared about was money" and the values once synonymous with our game are dead. Then I read that "Johnno was too loyal; it cost him". So what do we want? I suppose the ultimate fit would be a manager who understands fully the English professional game but who also ardently believes that, whether it's employment or not, the position of an England player is still one to be cherished.
I also read that "Johnno was criticised for his inexperience". Forgive me if I am being simple here, but isn't that like criticising somebody for being too young? We all knew he was inexperienced, so if this warrants any criticism it ought to be aimed at the man who gave him the job, surely. How does someone with so much responsibility seem to concede so little accountability?
The players were also not entirely happy with the coaches, and I suspect these feelings were, in some cases, reciprocated. But this is fine, because soon there will be new coaches and they will have been watching, reading and forming opinions of their own. A good number of new faces are what's needed, and they're about to arrive.
Whatever the make-up of the next squad and management team, what counts is that the men chosen to lead our nation into sporting battle are the right men; that they are men who will put nothing before their mates, who will do all they possibly can to get better and learn, who will be strong enough to lay their very souls on the line and fight for what they believe to be right for the team. All they need to be is abso-lutely committed to creating a fabulous culture and to winning. Then there will be no nasty reviews to leak.Reuse content