Stop all the dithering and let Johnno loose

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The Independent Online

Watching the Rugby Football Union fiddle around with the task of appointing a management and coaching team is like watching England play rugby: uncertain, disjointed and lacking any visible sign that they know what the hell they are doing.

And to think I was critical of the Welsh Rugby Union when they were in the same position only four months ago. I thought the way they dispensed with the services of Gareth Jenkins the day after being knocked out of the World Cup was cruel and hasty. Nor did I like it when they immediately departed mob-handed on a coach-seeking tour of Australia and New Zealand.

I still don't think it needed three of them to go on such an expensive journey. A phone call would have told them all they wanted to know about Warren Gatland's willingness to take up the challenge. But you have to praise them for the decisive way they acted. Wales had slumped to 10th in the world and were at a very low ebb.

The WRU made up their minds to make Gatland an offer he couldn't refuse. Then they stood back and let him get on with a job with a totally free hand. The result in so short a time has been little less than miraculous, and England could do with similar decision-making.

The situations are not quite the same. England are not in the same sorry plight Wales were. They don't need the complete makeover the Welsh squad was put through. But what they do need is a strong leader who is given his head, as Gatland was. It may require copying Wales and replacing one regime with a completely new one, but it's hard to judge what they do want. The dithering can only be damaging.

Identifying Martin Johnson as the best man to steer England in the right direction with forceful motivation was a positive and correct decision. But that's where the decisiveness ground to a halt. The conditions under which he would work and even whether he wants the job have suddenly become obscured.

The delay is another blow to the pride and patience of Brian Ashton, who took the job on when the team were not ingood shape. Under him they reached the World Cup final, and if they had beaten Wales they would probably have won the Six Nations. Would they have still been deliberating about his future had that happened?

We are left to wonder what's going on behind the scenes. I'm sure Johnson wouldn't take the job unless he had complete authority over the coaching set-up. There's the question of Rob Andrew's position, but I imagine he would control the England rugby scene generally while Johnno would be in charge of international affairs.

Johnson does not have the credentials of a Gatland. He has limited coaching experience, if any, yet as an iconic figure with the power to lead there's no one in the world better equipped. But it could be a massive risk for him. He already has tremendous standing in the game and has everything to lose if things didn't go well on the field.

England have the potential to win the next World Cup. If he has that scent in his nostrils, he wouldn't hold back. But he would want to select coaches he knows he could work with – as Gatland did. Austin Healey has been approached already. He doesn't have a coaching background either, but he is a clever thinker. He and Johnno would be on the same wavelength.

There's been talk that Shaun Edwards might be approached but he appears content to be with Wales and, in any case, would he be Johnson's choice?

And Ashton? He's a very good coach and would be an asset, but would he be comfortable giving up the authority he now has? It's an incredible situation, and the RFU need to bite the bullet and let Johnson get on with it.

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