Smith defends World Cup role
January 7, 2012
Brian Smith during his days as England's attack coach © Getty Images
Former England attack coach Brian Smith has defended his corner after coming under fire following the team's poor World Cup.
Smith followed team manager Martin Johnson in resigning from his post following a tournament beset by failings on the pitch and disciplinary problems off it. Separate reports were commissioned by the Rugby Football Union, the Rugby Players' Association and the Aviva Premiership clubs into what went wrong in New Zealand. And when extracts from one of those reports were subsequently leaked to the Times, Johnson's coaching team came in for some of the fiercest feedback.
One unnamed player, asked where blame lay for the team's failings, reportedly said: "It wasn't Johnno, it was that Johnno was surrounded by the wrong people." RFU elite rugby director Rob Andrew, meanwhile, was quoted as saying that trust had broken down "between some of the coaches and players and between some of the senior players group and some of the younger members".
Smith broke his silence on the issue in an interview with the Independent, in which he hit out at the source of the leak. "People who don't get what they think they should out of a situation... they've always taken pot-shots and they always will," he said. "But yes, I was pretty angry about the way things were presented.
"That episode was very difficult, not least for my wife. The only good thing was that it didn't affect my kids, them being so young (Smith has three children under the age of five). It's an easy thing to say, that there was this Leicester mafia in charge of England (Johnson, scrum coach Graham Rowntree and forwards coach John Wells) and that I clashed with them. Things didn't happen the way some people make out. As far as I was concerned those debates were healthy. I have no issues on that score.
"Did I coach well enough? Did I contribute to the best of my ability? Looking back, I think I did pretty well. Last year, only two international sides scored more tries than England - New Zealand and Australia - and we won 10 of our 13 games. I simply don't accept this idea that we produced a stagnant side."
Off-field disciplinary problems were the greatest source of controversy during England's participation in the tournament, with attention particularly focusing on a team drinking session which eventually saw Mike Tindall axed from the Elite Performance Squad before being reinstated on appeal. Smith denied that had any bearing on results on the pitch, but acknowledged its damaging impact.
"The Tindall thing took on a life of its own, but as coaches we were in our own bubble and didn't realise it was gathering such momentum," he said. "Yes, it caused a problem, but I don't see it as the reason things didn't work out for us. In the end, we lost control for a 20-minute period against the French, and if you lose control in a World Cup quarter-final you're in trouble."
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