You cannot plan for a World Cup, says Ashton

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The Independent Online

Brian Ashton, the England coach, yesterday questioned the value of planning for the next World Cup by declaring that any blueprint becomes irrelevant once the tournament starts. The Rugby Football Union claims to have learned the lessons of 2003 when English rugby's finest moment quickly turned sour as the team subsequently lurched from one disaster to another on the pitch.

Director of elite rugby Rob Andrew has promised to devise a clear strategy for the next two World Cups once he has finished reflecting on the heroic defeat to South Africa in Saturday's final. But Ashton, who has overseen the nation's transformation from no-hopers to courageous runners-up, was not singing from the same hymn sheet. Instead the 61-year-old, who admitted he found the tournament a shock to the system, maintained planning becomes pointless once the World Cup kicks off.

"I don't think there is a blueprint for success at the World Cup," said Ashton, who was flanked by Andrew and team captain Phil Vickery at a Twickenham press conference.

"Look at the last soccer World Cup – if I remember rightly Italy struggled in every group game yet went on to win the final. We lost a group game and went very close to winning the final on Saturday. France, who had a coach in place for eight years, got knocked out in the semis. New Zealand spent I don't know how much money yet were knocked out in the quarters. There's no blueprint at all.

"I think at this moment in time, and I may change my mind on this, it's about what happens when you get to the tournament that counts. It's the group of players that you've got with you. It's not about what you've done during the previous two or three years, it's what you do for the seven weeks that you're there.

"Once we were there it was a totally different experience to what I expected it to be. You live a day-to-day existence, not on the backend of three years of planning. You live from one day to the next with all the injuries and stuff . You live in very close proximity to one another 24 hours a day for seven weeks."

Ashton added: "This squad has been unbelievably strong and shown a lot of pride in how they performed as rugby players, but even more pride in how they performed as men. That's one of the strongest factors that brought them together, got them to the final and very nearly allowed them to live the impossible dream. You can talk blueprints for success as much as you like, but without those factors I don't think you'd get a sniff of the World Cup final."

Andrew listened intently to Ashton's comments on the logic behind planning for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, with the coach's message contradicting his own views on embracing the future.

The former England fly-half vowed the lack of vision shown in the past would not be repeated on his watch. "Brian, Phil and the guys have given everyone a huge lift and that's why we want to spend the next few weeks reflecting and recovering," he said. "Once that's done we'll make sure we move forward in terms of planning for the next World Cup. Unfortunately that didn't happen in 2003 and English rugby got itself into a real mess.

"We should be very grateful for Brian, Phil and the rest of the squad for digging England out of a hole in the last six months. It's been an extraordinary effort. We have to build on that and carry it forward."

Andrew again failed to shed any light on Ashton's future, with the England coach still on a one-year rolling contract. The deal expires in December and Andrew confirmed no decision would be made until after the World Cup review was completed next month.

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