Accentuate the positive - John Taylor returns to scrum.com!
February 27, 2007
Wales and Lions legend John Taylor, the voice of ITV rugby, returns to scrum.com! In the first of a series of regular features JT gives his verdict on the latest Six Nations action.
'You've got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mr In-Between'.
So goes the first verse of the old Johnny Mercer song and I found myself humming it as I waited in the bowels of the Stade de France for yet another of those excruciating post match post mortems for the benefit the assembled press corps.
It's easy for the winning coach - he has plenty of positives to go to and nobody really wants to dwell on the negatives. He's a winner and that's all that really matters.
Not so the unfortunate loser. Scotland's Frank Hadden, England's Brian Ashton and Wales' Gareth Jenkins all tried to find something to cling on to in the wake of Saturday's defeats but they all failed just as they had on the field. Having touched on the few plusses and owned up to their part in the defeat they should have been left to suffer in silence. Instead we had to listen to them squirming to find acceptable responses to questions they could not possibly answer honestly. By Monday morning most of what they said did not bear scrutiny.
At least Hadden came out of it with his credibility and integrity intact. The dressing room was 'shell-shocked' and he took responsibility. 'I wanted the crowd to be excited and on edge by starting in this way. You have to chip a rush defence. Sadly the execution went pear shaped,' he said. No argument with that. Italy scored four tries in all and there was only one pass - a very short one to Alessandro Troncon for the final nail in the coffin! It was a disastrous day - nothing more to be said.
At least he could find something positive in the fight back; it was pretty well all negative for England so Ashton decided on the honesty card but inexplicably tried to combine it with the loyalty factor.
'We were stuffed but I still have faith in the squad,' was his headline quote. Sorry Brian but that doesn't make much sense. With such a huge pool of players England should never be 'stuffed' and when they have been 'beaten all over the field' - to use your own words - how can you possibly have so much faith. I suspect you don't because you also said, 'I'll go back, look at the players available and where we have to get to and which players will take us forward.'
The reality has to be that some of the players didn't measure up and you surely have to face up to that and replace them. It will be a tough decision because you must have been hoping that some, like Danny Grewcock, Martin Corry and the man who has succeeded him as captain, Phil Vickery, would be the bedrock of your team.
One astonishing statistic from last Saturday was that the Irish team averaged 48 caps a man and experience is obviously a massive plus in international rugby but you cannot keep playing men who no longer cut the mustard.
Corry can never be faulted for effort but surely it is now obvious to all that he just does not have the raw explosive driving power from the base of the scrum. Lawrence Dallaglio was the prototype for the modern No.8 and players such as Ireland's Denis Leamy and Italy's Sergio Parisse have moved on from there. Corry has never quite looked comfortable in the role.
It is also obvious that Grewcock just cannot be trusted even after nearly 70 caps. This latest in a long line of transgressions was different to his usual lack of discipline (there were no fists or boots flying) but plain daft, nevertheless, and yet again it cost England dearly. Forget him and move on.
Truth is Brian - England's forwards are very ordinary quite apart from your back-line problems and if you still have faith in them more fool you.
Jenkins tried to look on the bright side. He was pleased that Wales had outscored the Championship favourites by three tries to two (of course he was) and rightly considered it a better performance overall than against Scotland 'which was unacceptable' but then had to address the downside and was soon floundering like Ashton.
'We've now had two matches in which we've won 35% and today 40% possession, which is just not acceptable,' (a word he uses a lot but mostly with negative connotations) he lamented. But when the inevitable 'what are you going to do about it, Gareth?' question came back he had no answers. 'We've got to find a way of improving, no doubt about that,' he offered wistfully before moving on hastily to more tangible things.
The reality is that the Welsh front five is simply not good enough. There were only nine scrums in the whole match - the first, incredibly, after 28 minutes - but they were on the back foot at every one of them and with a shaky lineout there was simply no platform.
That left Ryan Jones - the only man to punch holes in the New Zealand defence on the Lions tour two summers ago - looking flat footed and emasculated. Food for thought before Italy, Gareth?
At least there are now two weeks before the next matches. Time to get down to the real business of sorting out the mess and consigning all those meaningless words to the bin. It could be a defining fortnight for Ashton and Jenkins in particular - no room for Mr In-Between.
Stay tuned - John Taylor will be contributing regularly to scrum.com