It’s a familiar tale. English rugby is down in the dumps, as the 6-42 walloping by South Africa last Saturday proved. It was England’s worst ever defeat at their Twickenham headquarters and it could be worse after this weekend when the All Blacks play England.
So what’s wrong with England, World Cup winners as recently as 2003? Peter Bills takes an historic (and contemporary) light hearted view on some of the reasons for the poverty of the Poms………
1) Rugby was never that important in the minds of Englishmen. In the years before professionalism, they regarded it as little more than a social occupation.
2) In those days, even international players with leading English clubs used to go off for skiing trips in the winter during the rugby season.
3) The gravy train ran and ran in those days. When England went to Paris to play France in the old days, RFU committee men would take their wives, daughters, sons, lovers, gardeners, batmen along for the ride. All, of course, on RFU exes.
4) Even today, rugby is a minor sport in England compared to soccer. That means there isn’t the huge intensity and weight of expectation on rugby players, like in New Zealand.
5) There is little demand for excellence in English rugby. The difference between standards expected in New Zealand compared to England, are enormous.
6) England got it right in 2003 because they refused a clamour to sack Clive Woodward after the failure of his team at the 1999 World Cup. Woodcock then went on to lead England to the title in 2007. So, drawing clear lessons from that after the 2007 tournament, they sacked coach Brian Ashton.
7) The RFU’s decision to dispense with Ashton after he’d taken them to second place in the Six Nations and the World Cup, cost them the services of one of the most inventive rugby minds in the country.
8) All rugby unions study the bottom line with microscopic intensity. But Twickenham thinks only of money, nothing else. All those traditional values that used to epitomise English rugby – courtesy, loyalty to staff and a vision – have been thrown out of the window, like human waste in medieval times.
9) The English clubs are still fighting with the RFU. England once had a war with France that lasted 100 years. The RFU v Clubs battle could go on as long.
10) England players rarely go abroad to play. Thus, they never learn another vision for the game, never acquire the hard nosed playing values of the southern hemisphere. Is it a coincidence Martin Johnson became such a towering figure in world rugby, given he spent his formative playing times in, er, New Zealand?
11) If any young English player scores a decent try, wins a line-out, makes a break or kicks a goal, he’s suddenly regarded as the new David Duckham, Prince Obolensky or Bill Beaumont. Danny Cipriani has been all over the tabloid media, partly because his girlfriend is actress Kelly Brook. At 21, the resulting tabloid fuss is a major distraction.
12) The money paid to young players in England is crazy. They’re built up as world beaters in their own minds before they’ve even learned the game properly. They’re allowed to live their lives secreted away from reality, protected by the PR police at clubs and the RFU.
13) Objectivity and Twickenham crowds nowadays are as far apart as Otago from Oxford. Corporate clowns full of too much booze fill the stadium on Test days. Most wouldn’t know a hooker from a pimp.
14) Englishmen are just not as patriotic as people like New Zealanders or Australians. Maybe that’s not surprising – the whole country is so filled with people from overseas, it has become like a giant international airport arrivals and departures lounge.
15) The Queen doesn’t go to Twickenham any more these days. Perhaps she was put off in 1991 at the World Cup final when Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer, sitting close by Her Majesty, shouted at his players at the end ‘Kick it into the shithouse’.
16) The RFU Chief Executive drives a swank Aston Martin and ostentatiously, parks it out the front of RFU Headquarters. What sort of a message does that send to everyone else ? That administration is more important here than the playing side?
17) One man at Twickenham has collected medals at two World Cup finals – the, er, press officer. It’s a standing joke among Fleet Street’s finest.
18) The jury is out on England’s new coaching hierarchy. A Leicester mafia – Martin Johnson, forwards coach John Wells and scrum coach Graham Rowntree – dominates. Many are not convinced by their credentials.
19) In America, they hate people who lose. Yanks coming to England are astonished that the underdog mentality is so prevalent. As the old saying goes, ‘Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser’………..
20) The RFU’s wine cellar is one of the most lavishly stocked anywhere in the land. These are the things that really matter at Twickenham.