Earlier this year, I edited a video package for an England representative side. The respect, the camaraderie and the willingness to improve was inspiring. That was my impression of what international rugby should be like.
But now English rugby is in turmoil following the leaking of confidential reports commissioned by the RFU highlighting the failures of the downright disastrous World Cup campaign in New Zealand.
From jaded players and unoriginal tactics to a lack of leadership and questionable motivation, nearly every aspect of England’s tour has been called into question by players and management alike. Naturally, most of us in the press are likely to pick apart the negative aspects of the report and ignore the good. It makes for a bigger and better news story.
Indeed, nearly everybody with an opinion on the story cannot see light at the end of the tunnel for a team depleted of coaches, a team manager and a captain. But I am firmly of the opinion that this debauchery is fantastic for the English game and just what we need to inspire the squad for the next four years.
England have 10 weeks to prepare to defend their Six Nations crown. In that time, the RFU and first fifteen will undergo enormous reform. The next squad that forms the intense scrutiny they are under and have no choice but to buck their ideas up.
Any player coming into the squad will want to dispel any fears that the team is in turmoil. The path to the World Cup hosted on these shores in four years time will be rocky but I cannot imagine a single member of a future England team who will not be motivated by the desire to eradicate the memories of this autumn.
Having witnessed friends and teammates undergo the shame and embarrassment of this public execution, no England player will want to experience such pain.
The England team was always lacklustre under Johnson. Whether it was poor selection, tactics or management, winning the Six Nations in March merely papered over the cracks. Now, with the chance to start on a blank canvas, England’s new coach can build an army around him with the goal of Twickenham in four years burning brightly.
The mistakes in New Zealand being revealed in the public domain ensure that the team can be held accountable for their errors. The failings have been identified which is the first stage for any improvement. The old adage – never make the same mistake twice – must ring true for the England team.
The disgrace in which coaches, management and players are leaving is of no concern. The only concern is ensuring that a system is now implemented, that rights all of the wrongs of the Johnson/Andrew/Moody era.
The curious issue is how did the likes of Johnson, Wilkinson, Tindall and Shaw, who were all part of the all-conquering, exemplary 2003 side, get it so wrong?
England must banish every negative aspect from their organisation and insert a winning mentality from the coach, through the captain and create a team of young leaders that inspire each other to perform. The likes of Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Tom Wood and James Haskell can all learn from the experience and become senior members of the team, emerging from the shadow of their predecessors, spurred on by the pain they are currently experiencing.
The England cricket team used to be the whipping boys of world cricket. Now they’re at the top of the pile. It is a process that has taken the best part of ten years to engineer their current status but one in which foundations were laid by their governing body, the ECB, and one that has inspired a team intent on working hard for each other.
Even through the era of Michael Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss, finding the winning formula wasn’t easy. But with Andy Flower at the helm, the team and management have tessellated beautifully.
The RFU just have to get the right people in the right position and it will click. They may not get it right first time but professional sport is defined by the smallest of margins and the RFU must begin by finding the right people and not be reluctant to act swiftly if it doesn’t work.
What would be worse – accepting the failings in New Zealand and adopting a soft, sympathetic attitude or finding the faults, internalising the errors and taking action to ensure such faults are not repeated?
I know what I’d choose…
Thursday, 24th November 2011