England suffer for a lack of leadership
John Taylor
February 7, 2008

"The lack of leadership is crucifying England and it has done ever since 2003." John Taylor delivers his verdict on England's opening performance.

England appear to be in denial. Instead of some really serious self flagellation they appear to be trying to shrug off the inexplicable collapse against Wales as an eight minute aberration - just one of those things.

'Yes, I am angry about that (Wales scoring 20 points in 13 minutes) as are the players,' says England coach Brian Ashton. 'They ought to be angry too. It wasn't the brightest rugby.

'We've talked it through and it will not happen again. If we get to that position we will not be handing the game to the opposition on a plate... we'll see the real England at the weekend.'

'Hurt' and 'pride' have also been bandied around with assurances it will never happen again but nobody wants to admit there is a serious problem.

Everybody outside the camp has been asking questions about England's leadership. Everybody inside insists it is not an issue.

As one of the senior players Andy Gomarshall says he is prepared to take responsibility for his part in the lack of leadership during the crucial period 'but only for that brief period of time in the second half - and even then I'm not so sure what this leadership type issue means in its detail.

Sorry, but for all the assurances that the squad is upbeat and confident it sounds to me as if they are not facing up to the issues and as any psychologist - sporting or otherwise - will tell you, it is impossible to start the road to recovery until you get the demons out in the open.

The lack of leadership is crucifying England and it has done ever since 2003.

Through to the end of the 2003 World Cup the England camp had leaders everywhere. Martin Johnson likes to play down his own leadership qualities claiming he only had to toss the coin and decide which way to play but nothing could be further from the truth.

He was inspirational in the 'follow me' sense and tactically astute as well. Around him he had other key lieutenants - Lawrence Dallaglio (who would probably have been captain instead of him but for the News of the World sting), Neil Back and Richard Hill who knew exactly how they wanted to play the game.

There was Matt Dawson calling the shots from scrum-half and Will Greenwood, slightly less conspicuous but very influential at No. 12.

He made the decisions leaving Jonny Wilkinson to concentrate on the execution of the moves.

Off the field there was Clive Woodward. Love him or hate him you never doubted his self-belief or his determination to show that he was really the boss.

Neither Andy Robinson nor Ashton (so far) has managed to exert the same sort of authority and there are no real leaders on the field either.

Phil Vickery might enjoy the 'Raging Bull' soubriquet but it is not the most accurate nickname. He is actually more the strong silent type, a gentle giant and definitely not a natural leader.

I have re-run the tape of that fateful period in the second-half a number of times since last Saturday concentrating on his contribution and there is no captaincy input from him at all as far as I can see.

On the one occasion he had the ball in hand he shuffled sideways and then made the first of a series of poor passes that put England under pressure. In defence he was clearly struggling.

It culminated in Ashton substituting him at the very moment Wales scored the try which brought them level. That decision had presumably been taken before the score but what does it say about the value Ashton puts on his captaincy?

You reach a crisis moment and you take off the captain - I'd like to think Johnno would just have refused to leave the field.

It left a horrible void. Jonny was presumably elevated to captain but he is just not the inspirational sort. Even when he calls moves he does it with his hand over his mouth so only those who need to know can hear and that sort of sums him up. He is usually a good decision maker but he always seems too busy to worry about other people.

Inside him, Gomarsall is struggling with his form and therefore not as dominant as usual and outside there was nobody with any authority once Mike Tindall left the field.

The forwards are all Indians - there's not a chief in sight. Andrew Sheridan and Simon Shaw are the original 'quiet' men, Mark Regan is a prickly individual - individual being the operative word - Steve Borthwick is another organiser and James Haskell and Luke Narraway are still feeling their way in.

Face up to it England - plenty of disciples but no Messiah!

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