Food for thought for England
John Taylor
November 19, 2008
Steve Borthwick of England look on during an England training session at the Pennyhill Park Hotel in Bagshot, England on November 18, 2008.
Borthwick's leadership has been called into question following the side's loss to Australia last weekend © Getty Images

Love him or hate him you can never accuse David Campese of sitting on the fence and fans of the greatest Pom-basher of them all will be pleased to know he has not mellowed one jot.

We spent last Sunday afternoon at my old club, London Welsh, chewing the fat as part of a fund-raiser for the family of an old player, Raphael Sweeney, who died recently after a long struggle with motor neurone disease. He was, of course, cock-a-hoop that Australia had avenged that World Cup defeat against England and, never one to miss a chance to launch a broadside at English rugby, was scathing about their performance.

"When I arrived everybody was looking back, I couldn't believe it," was his opening blast. "It was all about a year ago in Marseilles - there were even some still whingeing about the referee in the World Cup Final in 2003, you won for God's sake - and how the English forwards had pulverised The Wallabies. We've had a whole season since then and you guys (for a moment he forgot he was talking to an already converted Welsh audience) obviously haven't noticed we've got a lot better at scrum time.

"And, typical Poms, they're obsessed with the scrum. It's not the be all and end all you know, it's what you do with the ball once you've got it that counts."

The rant was fun but the point was serious. You read it here at the end of July in my column on the ELVs which were being trialled in the Tri-Nations. "The free kick option was seen by some as a way to reduce the importance of the scrum .... but Australia, who were seen as the sponsors of any move to paper over their deficiencies in that department, look stronger now than for many a year."

The English point of view is that referee, Marius Jonker, did them no favours by not sorting out the scrummaging early on but how do they explain away the clear supremacy of Australia in the later stages when it had all settled down? At one stage England were actually going backwards at a rate of knots.

Nevertheless, it was what happened when the two sides did get quality possession that made the difference. England have forgotten how to play attacking rugby.

"When I'm carrying the ball who determines the plays?" asked Campo. Rhetorically. "No, it's not me it's all the other guys. If there is no anticipation and running off the ball there is nowhere to go. That's why the All Blacks are consistently the best in the world - apart from World Cup years, of course. Their players work harder in support of the runner than any other team."

He's right. Danny Cipriani's performance might have been like the curate's egg but he produced two scything breaks. The All Blacks' (and probably the rest of the southern hemisphere) support would have been there like a shot and they would, almost without question, have scored tries on both occasions. England could not convert either chance - nobody even got close to Cipriani.

Contrast that with Ma'a Nonu's try for New Zealand - Joe Rokocoko's support run was a classic piece of attacking rugby.

Campo's final blast was reserved for the lack of leadership.

Much has been written about it in the last three weeks - so much that Steve Borthwick, the man in the firing line, felt compelled to defend himself - but again the failures were there for all to see and it should be very worrying for the management. That is perhaps the most frustrating thing of all for Johnson. It was a hallmark of his own playing days and as a coach/manager you expect your senior players to put down a marker even in defeat but nobody appeared to be trying to rally the troops or leading the charge.

"It's not just the decision making," says Campese. "Leadership is also about standing up and being counted when you're out there. Too many of the England players were anonymous, they went missing."

Sadly, Borthwick was again just one of the pack - in every sense of the word - and, to add to his woes, there were some bizarre line-out calls and cock-ups - the area where he is supposed to be supreme technically and as a tactician. I would return him to the ranks right now - he is obviously not enjoying the captaincy role.

However, he was not the only one to blame. Phil Vickery is making a mockery of his 'Raging Bull' brand these days and Sale are so worried about Andrew Sheridan they have asked Fran Cotton to mentor him. Only Tom Rees showed any real appetite for the fight amongst the starting eight and James Haskell added some much needed pace and enthusiasm in the last quarter.

The two experienced players in the back-line are Jamie Noon and Paul Sackey and neither cut the mustard. Noon, I'm afraid, is one of those very good club players who cannot make the final step up and Sackey, normally so sharp, just had a day off.

"Worrying times for Johnson - a man I respect but he has to make his mark and quickly too." With that one last salvo Campo was off to catch his plane back to South Africa where he has been part of the Natal Sharks coaching team for the past three years.

Thanks mate - it was much appreciated.


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