Wanted: leadership and inspiration

Autumn Tests: Coach remains defiant - shame about the team - and now the future is down to Andrew
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The Independent Online

For those interested in a little blood money the odds on Andy Robinson, whose middle name is beleaguered, being out of his England job before the World Cup had been established at 5-1. That was before yesterday's disastrous defeat to Argentina. They could be as low as evens now, although the head coach was in a defiant mood last night, certainly more defiant than his team had been.

Robinson was adamant that he would be in charge for the next two Tests against South Africa and that he had the backing of the great and the good at the Rugby Football Union. "We have to give ourselves time to think things through," he said. Robinson will, however, have to survive a de-briefing by senior management over the next few days. Yes, he admitted, this was the "lowest point" of his career. While the Pumas recorded their first victory at Twickenham, England's 25-18 loss was their first at home to a country outside the best in Europe and the three Tri-Nations heavyweights. It was also their seventh defeat in a row, equalling the dismal records of 100 years ago and again in 1971-72.

"To say we were awful is an understatement," Martin Corry, the captain, said. "We couldn't get the ball and when we did we couldn't keep it." Yesterday Robinson replaced his half-backs early in the second half - neither had played well - but the introduction of Toby Flood, a newcomer to Newcastle let alone the cauldron of a Test match, was asking for trouble and England duly got it. It was the latest in a line of dubious selections. "We needed more decisiveness from our stand-off," was Robinson's explanation. "You have got to make these tough calls."

Indeed, but will the RFU and Rob Andrew make the toughest call of all, relieving Robinson of his post before England begin their defence of the World Cup next September? He was fortunate to survive the cull executed at Twickenham after England's dismal showing in the last Six Nations Championship. They finished fourth but were also fourth the season before, when no action was taken. His position now looks hopeless. Yesterday he had three vice-captains on the field in addition to the captain and two of them were replaced. And still there wasn't an inspiring leader to be found.

How has it come to this? On the back of their historic triumph in the World Cup in Sydney in 2003 rugby enjoyed a facelift in England and last week the £105m South Stand was opened - to a record defeat by the All Blacks. The capacity has been increased to 82,000 but at this rate they will not be able to fill it.

When Robinson - he is contracted to 2008 - joined the coaching staff in 2000 England won 41 out of the next 50 Tests. It was when he became head coach in 2004, following the resignation of Sir Clive Woodward, that the Red Rose slumped from No 1 in the world to sixth... and falling.

An excellent forwards coach, he was promoted above his station although he is by no means solely to blame. He has also been unlucky, not least in losing invaluable players like the former captain Martin Johnson, and in an injury list that is almost as long as the interminable row twixt club and country that has also made Robinson's job anything but a bed of roses.

If he goes, and it is still a big if after all the bloodletting of the summer, who will replace him? There are few candidates but an obvious alternative is Rob Andrew, the new elite director of rugby, or Brian Ashton, the attack coach. The former would have to change his job description and the latter has tried being the head coach - with Ireland - and he didn't like it. There is, of course, always Les Cusworth, the former England stand-off who is now Argentina's coach. The RFU wouldn't have to pay much to get him.

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