The Last Word: England stumble on winning formula despite themselves

Johnson's men progress but fail to convince with their woeful management and crass behaviour

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The Independent Online

England found the way to win. It is the story of their Rugby World Cup, a story that some are daring to promote as positive.

They cling to this finding-a-way, shows-great-character guff like the drowning man grasped at those straws. England found a way, no doubt about it. They found a way to make their first four weeks of this tournament so shambolic that even certain England football managers would blush.

Dwarfs, blondes, balls, bungees... all written off by the apologists as completely irrelevant, yet all completely relevant in the writing-off of England's chances. Let's face it, England stumbled across the way to win yesterday; just as they did against Argentina.

But then, "all that matters is winning games", as the captain, Lewis Moody, confirmed yesterday. And, guess what, the French await, and they must surely be judged as one the most lamentable French teams in living memory. It is bordering on the hilarious that all England have to emulate is the spirit of the Tongans to step into the semi-finals past Marc Lièvremont's excuse for a regime. Is it too much to hope England could emulate the adventure of the Tongans as well? Perhaps.

After all, with the draw blowing all that smoke among the mirrors, England will be thinking: negotiate that inconsiderable Gallic challenge and Wales or Ireland will stand between them and a third successive final. Oh yes, they'll be revving up the open-topped bus in readiness.

Yet, regardless of the stage oftheir departure, the inadequacies of the management should not, but probably will, be masked. The Rugby Football Union must sort it out, but that's a laughable statement in itself. Look at the mess of that supposed governing body, with all the infighting, all the agendas, all the bungling. Asking them to sort out a rugby crisisis akin to asking the Greeks to step in to put our bankers in check.

Indeed, when one analyses his masters it is possible to feel huge sympathy for Martin Johnson. The great captain was exactly that: a great captain. There were no guarantees he would be a great coach. Think about it; Johnson had no coaching experience whatsoever when he was parachuted in by the desperate Twickenham power-chokers. Nobody should ever be asked to rely on their reputation instead of their CV and knowledge base. It is arrogant and ignorant and is fairly begging for catastrophe.

What we witnessed at Eden Park yesterday was one management structure getting somewhere in the region of the very best out of the players at their disposal, and the other attaining the bare minimum. If Mike Tindall is still the answer in midfield, then the question is so, so wrong. And Jonny Wilkinson is a national treasureand should be consigned to amuseum. Toby Flood transformed the back line, just as his bosses should have known he would.

But then they should have known so much throughout this World Cup. So a recently married player has a few beers and is caught in a clinch with blonde? "Shocker," said Johnson. What was shocking was the absence of prescience. That player is the husband of the queen's grand-daughter and the fairness, or otherwise, of Tindall being crucified in the press because of his wife's breeding has damn-all do with it. The point is, the overreaction was as predictable as it was avoidable.

The extreme-sport escapade was numbskulled for exactly the same reason. Give them some rope... And there followed the cynical switching of balls against Romania. It was unnecessary and so stupid it almost defies belief.

"We move on," says Johnno. You can't argue with him on that score. England have moved on into the quarter-finals and are long odds-on to move on again. Yet are they really going anywhere? Anywhere else than ever deeper into the land of self-delusion, that is.

Defence of Tevez is just plain daft

Already the dissenting Carlos Tevez view is out there. It claims the outrage which greeted the Argentinian's refusal to go on last Tuesday has been way over the top. Leave the poor sap alone.

Comparable cases have inevitably been presented, even though there are no comparable cases. Take Paul Scholes's admission that he once refused to play in a Carling Cup tie. Sir Alex Ferguson recalls it differently, with Scholes saying he "didn't really fancy it". That obviously isn't the same as Tevez. And neither is Javier Mascherano declaring himself "not in the right frame of mind" to play for Liverpool.

It is one thing making a decision in the cold light of day, quite another to make it in the heat of the action, when the footballing instincts should be raging. That's why all this Tevez derision is entirely justified. He's not a bank clerk taking a sickie or a politician in the pub rather in the House. He's doing something we all dream of doing, on wages we all dream of earning. That's what we fail to understand about his behaviour, no matter how clever the case of the contrarians.

What I don't understand is why Tevez turned up to sit on the bench on Tuesday in the first place. He must have intended to play a part, meaning this was a rash, split-second decision. But if it was, why doesn't he at least apologise now? He'd be helping out those so courageously defending his corner if he did.