Time for change
John Taylor
October 13, 2011
England's Toby Flood cuts a dejected figure as France celebrate their victory, England v France, Rugby World Cup quarter-final, Eden Park, Auckland, October 8, 2011
England were left to rue what might have been © Getty Images

When all the scandal about off-field misdemeanours - and it was a scandal that professional players at the biggest tournament in the rugby calendar behaved like an old boys occasional XV on an Easter tour - has died down, the post mortem on Martin Johnson's England should focus on whether there has been any progress while he has been in charge.

At the farewell press conference he claimed that the players had 'come a long way' in the last three years. Sadly, there is no evidence of that.

He inherited a team that had reached the 2007 World Cup final and, after nearly four years in charge, he has seen his team go out in the quarter-finals after a series of lacklustre performances. However much you want to spin it, England never looked convincing here in New Zealand and France did not have to play particularly well to put them out of their misery.

The reality is that England have been largely disappointing throughout his reign. There were a few high spots but never the proof that he had a clear vision of where they were going and a plan of how to get there.

Instead, it was always a case of more of the same - from selection through to coaching. It should not take six weeks to conclude that he was simply too conservative in his approach to everything.

The signs were there when he stubbornly refused to accept what everybody else could see and stuck with Steve Borthwick as his captain instead of blooding young talent like Courtney Lawes.

Lawes, Ben Youngs, and Manu Tuilagi would have been better players with another half dozen caps going in to this World Cup. They might also have been more mature as individuals.

You also have to question the wisdom of continuing with the same coaching team. There were bound to be accusations of cronyism with his old Leicester mates, John Wells and Graham Rowntree holding down key jobs. Loyalty is admirable but perception is equally important and he seems unwilling or unable to take tough decisions.

The whole Shontayne Hape debacle is further proof that the man is not for turning. When the decision was made to play Toby Flood in the mid-field alongside Jonny Wilkinson he was asked where that left Hape - a fair enough question in the circumstances.

We all knew the answer - simply not good enough - but nobody expected him to say that. There was, however, the chance to admit that things had not worked out as expected.

Instead he churned out the same old party line. Shontayne offers something different - not appropriate for this game but 'if somebody fell downstairs' he could step right in. It was meant as a reassurance that he was ready and able but taking it more literally offered a clue to the reality.

Hape was out of the frame and the only thing that could get him back into it was an emergency such as somebody falling downstairs!

The review process is compromised before it even begins because Rob Andrew's position has already been undermined by the restructuring that preceded John Steele's dismissal. He was deemed unsuitable for the post of elite performance director and effectively sidelined but is now being asked to assume that role again to assess the performance of the man he was instrumental in appointing as England manager.

All this at a time when some people within the RFU are suggesting that Andrew's own position is one of the things that should be included in the review. So far he has always managed to dodge the bullets - hence his 'teflon kid' soubriquet within the game - but there is now a new team of snipers waiting in the wings.

The problem at the RFU is that there is nobody left with any credibility or authority to take control until they have appointed a new executive team to run the business.

Acting CEO, Martyn Thomas has said he has full confidence in Johnson but that means nothing. He is simply not qualified to comment on the playing side of the professional game and, at a time when his role in the Steele affair is still under scrutiny and he has been forced to resign as chairman, many people believe he should not be doing the job in any case.

Because of the hiatus at the top Johnson's future is probably in his own hands. If he wants to continue he should be coming up with his own blueprint for the way forward.

The coaching team needs a total revamp - even successful coaches have a limited shelf life in the same environment and these have been far from successful - and he probably needs some help on the selection front; perhaps a national selector to hold his hand as in cricket.

More of the same is definitely not an option.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh

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