A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

Martin Johnson’s England simply does not have the enough quality in the side in the absence of injured stars

England’s weak 18 – 19 defeat at the hands of Australia and frustrating 16 – 9 victory of an impressive Argentina at Twickenham stadium have left many wondering whether manager Martin Johnson, recently honoured as the best player ever to grace the Twickenham turf by fellow professionals, has the credentials to continue coaching the national team.

Johnson started slowly in his coaching reign, with successive losses to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand proving what fans hoped would be a false start in his tenure.  National pride was restored during the 6 Nations with close fought battles with Ireland and Wales, and solid wins over Scotland and Italy and heavy a defeat of France ensuring a second place finish for a team who at times played some classy rugby. These performances helped many players who impressed during the competition tie up a place in the Lions squad for the summer tour of South Africa, with 9 English members of the initial squad taken.

From a solely English perspectives there were some standout performances during the tour, even if there were not enough representatives for a nation of England’s calibre. Whilst Lee Mears and Phil Vickery had fairly average tours (although the Gloucester prop did redeem himself in the last test for his poor showing against Tendai ‘the beast’ Mwrawri in the first) all the other England players came home with their reputations enhanced.

There was certainly an increased sense of hope surrounding the England side that a core of 2009 Lions could lead England into a new era, especially with the return of former prodigy Johnny Wilkinson. The powerful and experienced Andrew Sheridan and impressive as late replacement against the emerging boks Tim Payne, who looked to be the long-term successor to the ageing Phil Vickery, seemed sure to offer strong proping options. Lock Simon Shaw, who one journalist described as having the best game of his career against South Africa looked certain for a prolonged spell in the team, and the athletic Tom Croft’s versatility could provide numerous options in the pack. The ‘tree chopper’ Joe Worsley was an outside bet to make the Lions squad, but he too did himself justice with tough tackling and dogged displays.

In the backline Harry Ellis, Riki Flutey and Ugo Monye looked to be key Lions of which Johnson could build a division to rival the great backs of the 2003 world cup winning squad. Flutey’s quick pass to Shane Williams in the last test highlighted his immense skill and strong determination after coming back from an early injury during the tour, and Monye’s interception try showed how rapid the Harlequins man is.

Things looked bright for a strong end to 2009 for England, even if daunting tasks against southern hemisphere opposition laid ahead. So how are we discussing a weak performance against the Wallabies coupled with a poor showing out to Los Pumas.

Injuries have no doubt heavily debilitated resources at Johnson’s disposal. 10 leading props are on the casualty list, joined by Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley (for the Australia game), Nick Easter, Harry Ellis, Riki Flutey, Mike Tindall, and Delon Armitage. (who as it goes was unlucky not to make the Lions touring party). That is almost an entire XV Johnson has been deprived off, therefore critics should be quick to give him an inch to breathe in, as any coach would struggle without top players. (just ask Liverpool F.C. manager Rafa Benitez!)

Even so, the ordinary nature of recent displays and extreme number of errors asks questions of the players and coaching staff. It is my opinion that the team possesses too many wanderers, not good enough to cut the mustard at inernational level. Louis Deacon and James Haskell still look a bit weak against top class opposition, although Haskell’s game has come on slightly since he has moved abroad. It is in the backs where Johnson should look to blood new youngsters insead of continuing his fait in older players with less to offer. Both centres Dan Hipkiss and Shane Geraghty look to be out of their depth and Johnson could consider young Harlequin Jordan Turner-Hall or the slight but elusive Matthew Tait.

Or it may be that Will Carling, the former England wing is right in his calls for more experienced assistance for Johnson in the coaching staff. Carling believes Johnson is the man for the job, but could use abit of knowhow close to him to ease him into international coaching. Disgraced Quins boss Dean Richards was mentioned with tongue firmly in cheek, but someone of his stature and knowledge of the game would go a long way in progressing this England side.

Next up is New Zealand, a side not in their usual free-flowing form following a mixed tri-nations, but will none the less provide a stern test of opposition for England. Thankfully Shaw and Tait are back from injury although it is not known whether they will start. What is known that without an improved performance this saturday, the pressure is sure to mount on Martin Johnson and his backroom staff

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November 17, 2009 - Posted by | Rugby Union

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