James Lawton on the Six Nations: Maybe flair is in the Welsh blood, while England can only pack the odd punch
The desperate need is for English players who think out of the box and have the nerve and nous to do so. Wales were awash with them
Will Carling was hauntingly close to beating the world at Twickenham in 1991 and so we are obliged to listen when he says that what happened at the Millennium Stadium was the nation's worst rugby defeat in a quarter of a century.
Like Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup winning coach of 2003, Carling laments a defensive obsession which turned into abject surrender before the force of Wales.
However, both these estimable rugby men may well be missing a problem that runs deeper than mere tactical or even philosophical emphasis. Maybe we should be looking not at the coach's blackboard, or DVD player, but the DNA of the modern English rugby player. Can he really play?
Of course he can wield formidable power. He proved that on a rainy night in Sydney 10 years ago when the World Cup was snatched away from the Australian hosts who had worked the trick against Carling's men 12 years earlier. That should have been a point of breakthrough, the moment when England finally believed in their ability to compete on psychologically even terms at the highest level.
Yet what has the nation with the best commercial resources, and by far the biggest player population, produced since then? One Six Nations title, two years ago, that served only to fuel the grotesque hubris that led to the World Cup disaster in New Zealand.
Since then Wales and France have both won four times, with three Grand Slams each. In 2003 Ireland were ravaged by England in Dublin, defeated in a way that threatened their own visit to some dark ages. However, they have conjured a Grand Slam in the meantime and now, even by the patriotic calculation of Woodward, might reasonably expect to outnumber at least by four to two England's representatives in the Lions Test team.
In the wake of the slaughter by Wales that old and nagging question has surely returned to the surface.
Where is the wit and the instinct of the English rugby player when the most strenuous tests are set?
Yes, the 2003 crew were remarkable in their raw aggression and in performers of the quality of Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill, Jason Robinson, Will Greenwood and in that moment of ultimate decision, Jonny Wilkinson. But then they were given the clearest indication of what they were to do. It was to hit the opposition with maximum force and with the accompanying threat of such men as Robinson and Greenwood. Where are the succeeding titans?
Woodward, curiously, nominates Chris Robshaw at No 8 ahead of Toby Faletau in his Lions XV but what kind of award is this? It is, presumably, one for forlorn gallantry while being utterly overwhelmed, because when you left the stadium you might have walked all the way to the head of the valleys without recalling a moment when someone in a white shirt effectively took the game to Wales.
For an Englishman there was only the grim conclusion that while saluting the restitution of decent professional values on and off the field achieved by the head coach Stuart Lancaster, he might also have been feeding some serious illusion. It may well be, of course, that England will grow strong at these broken places but where are the players who will be most conspicuous in the task that seemed so mountainous in the Cardiff dusk?
Owen Farrell has promised much and he may yet deliver but in his previous appearance against France there was a critical slippage of that composure which was so impressive in the early going of the Championship – and against Wales he was powerless to look other than someone who had wandered into a traffic contraflow.
Whether it is supplied by Farrell or the other young hope Freddie Burns, who has been so warmly applauded as a player of much effervescence and creative instinct, the desperate need is for English rugby players who not only think out of the box but also have the nerve and the nous to operate in such areas. Wales were, it hardly needs saying, awash with them.
Why? Because, let's at least consider the possibility, it is something that comes in the blood.
When a modern Welsh team wins, especially as gloriously as the one on Saturday, it is as though they are evoking, as much as anything, the ghosts of their past, a still strong link with players not only of great ability but unforgettable panache. To see Gareth Edwards or Barry John at the scene of victory was to have a powerful sense of tradition not only augmented but also re-enforced.
When you looked at it from that perspective, the demand on English rugby seemed still more profound. Lancaster has worked impressively with those resources available to him but this was an avalanche of reality. It said that you cannot hope to make an impact on the 2015 World Cup before you pass some basic examination of your inherent ability to shape the most competitive situations. This was the dire problem, not losing to a magnificently charged and extremely talented team. It was the bankruptcy of the response.
Lancaster said repeatedly that the lessons of an appalling defeat just had to be learned, but then by whom? Surely he could not just have meant the victims of the Welsh assault. The need is for a wider revolution, for the scouring of the land for young players of wit and some working imagination. Perhaps a little genetic engineering might also help.
Carver should cut out the childish antics
Who will step forward and save English football from itself?
Not John Carver, the assistant manager of Newcastle United, who was mercifully prevented from attacking 21-year-old Callum McManaman after an admittedly horrendously timed tackle. Nor the Wigan hierarchy of owner Dave Whelan and manager Roberto Martinez, who spent the time when they should have been agreeing that the youngster needed to sharply review his technique on extravagant testimonials to his exemplary competitive character.
However, of all the characters who brought fresh shame on the national game this last weekend – necessarily, for all practical purposes, we have to draw a veil over the morons among the West Ham fans who pelted their old player Frank Lampard with coins – Carver's behaviour was most sickening.
He is a man of mature years working for a Premier League club whose players are not always paragons of virtue in the matter of legal body contact. Had he succeeded, what quite would he have achieved? Possibly it would have been a riot, certainly a scene wretched even by the declining standards of behaviour in the world's best rewarded football league.
Someone has to do something soon. It is not just a question of morality but also a little bit of nerve.
Gary puts a new spin on team-building
We may have understated the potential of Gary Neville while merely applauding his refreshing arrival among TV football pundits.
This is him on the meaning of the kind of work put in by Tony Pulis, the relentlessly combative manager of Stoke City: "When I look at the intricacies of Manchester Town Hall and the work that went into building it and ensuring it would stand the test of time, for me that's like every single training session a manager might go into over eight or nine years at a football club to build a team."
Does this make Manchester United the Sistine Chapel of English football and Sir Alex Ferguson the game's answer to Michelangelo? Steady on, Gary.
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