James Lawton: It's difficult to even half believe in the uprising of the red-rose army

Where were the new Jason Robinson or Will Greenwood or Johnson or Dallaglio? Where were those explosions of individual merit that lift and embolden a team?

Lawrence Dallaglio is one of the most inspiring figures in the history of English rugby. He once threatened to sing his head off while rendering the national anthem at Lansdowne Road, a virtuoso performance that paled only when he promptly turned into Godzilla.

He now gives a small cheep of support for the idea that the successors of the 2003 world champions are getting a little stronger at the broken places.

Unfortunately it is one of the least resonant battle cries to come from the brilliant team-mate of the former captain and now coach Martin Johnson when the great prize was gained on a rain-smeared night in Sydney.

The trouble is that if Johnson's England are better, if here on Saturday they showed impressive spirit in closing the floodgates on an All Black performance that briefly threatened to be nothing less than eviscerating, we have to ask an oppressive question: better than the shambolic, discipline-free parody of an international team which made Johnson's first year in the job such a minefield?

Undoubtedly, they are, but does this mean they are no longer such long shots to reproduce even their hazardous and ultimately frustrating progress to the last World Cup final in Paris? Unfortunately, it doesn't.

You may say that holding the No 1 team which had been so rampantly inventive, until their narrow, stop-over defeat by Australia in Hong Kong just a week ago, to a mere 10-point margin was a decent enough performance. You might also agree with the great Dallaglio that if an embattled team is to show at least a glimpse of a green shoot or two the scrum, where the New Zealanders were given quite as much as they could handle, is an encouraging place to start. So why was the less than capacity Twickenham crowd so subdued, why did one of their number reflect on the ride back to Waterloo station: "You know, when we got within seven points I believed we might just do it... No, let's get it right. I half believed."

At the level England are obliged to operate, half believing will never do. The brutal truth is two-fold. The All Blacks slid off their game after an opening of awesome potential. England, particularly behind the scrum, were so short of inspiration, or anything more than mediocre ability, they might have been playing by numbers.

In fact it was hard to remember an afternoon at headquarters which was so essentially dispiriting.

Johnson, who could at least be heartened by the honesty of his team's effort, naturally talked about his work in progress, but what he couldn't say or point to was any sense that England, with its huge player population and ever increasing eye for a commercial edge, are displaying as much as a hint of the dynamism that was so apparent back when Dallaglio was singing, and playing, his heart out in Dublin en route to the triumph Down Under.

Ireland were destroyed that day by a team of fierce strength and all-consuming self-belief.

In the week in which a new second strip was revealed, along with the admission that New Zealand had been consulted on the appropriateness of its resemblance to the one that has dominated the rugby senses for so long, there was another damning reaction. Why, it asked, don't they wear pure grey?

On the field there was one more harsh comparison, made even more severe by the fact that the one authentically original talent produced by England in recent years, Danny Cipriani, is now pursuing his career in Australia, between the teams ranked first and sixth in the world.

The All Blacks showed us for the first time Hosea Gear and Sonny Bill Williams while England offered Shontayne Hape. The results could only emphasise the size of the gulf.

Where is the invention, the hard edge of brilliance, in English rugby? Jonny Wilkinson may never have been the supreme example of these qualities but for so long was extraordinary in the matter of commitment and competitive instinct and in his absence inevitably the search is for hints that someone of his order might just be in the works. At the moment it is hard to imagine any less rewarding work.

At the base of the scrum the 21-year-old Leicester Tiger Ben Youngs displayed an encouraging, business-like combativeness and after the bloodied skipper Lewis Moody and No 8 Nick Easter was probably England's best player. But this was a small talent pool indeed to set against exploitation of New Zealand riches that became increasingly sporadic and careless as the game wore on, especially when Jerome Kaino left for the sin bin.

Watching the sinuous, electric Gear and the game-breaking threat of Sonny Bill was to be reminded yet again of the durability and the vitality of the All Black rugby gene. But it was also another light picking out the failure of English rugby to build on the strength that was so self-evident on the road to the world title.

Where was the new Jason Robinson or Will Greenwood or Wilkinson or Johnson or Dallaglio or Richard Hill, where were those explosions of individual merit that lift and embolden a team?

Such figures were simply not on the radar, just the unshakeable reaction that the greatest failure of English rugby is in not beginning to show that it has the ability to reproduce the best of itself.

Scarcely a week passes by without news of some business initiative at Twickenham. They even have their own custom-built hotel with suites offering views of the famous field. The bureaucracy of English rugby swells from day to day. But, increasingly, you have to wonder what the point is if the greatest income-earner of all, a living, breathing, potentially world-beating team, refuses to catch light?

Continually, Twickenham pours out the bromide.

The future is secured, the business plan is a beauty and success will come again. Then, you look down on the field and, whatever the cost and the luxury of the vantage point, you are on the same train as the fan heading back to Waterloo. You have a big struggle to even half believe.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
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

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape