England as dull as ditch water
March 3, 2010
Martin Johnson's England saw their Grand Slam dream ended at the hands of Ireland last weekend © Getty Images
Steve Borthwick Pablo Canavosio Nick Easter Craig Gower James Hook Martin Johnson Lewis Moody Shane Williams
For once I put my money where my mouth was and put a small wager on France for the World Cup and the Grand Slam as I'd advised and while I was there I had a treble on the three teams I fancied for victory last weekend so I'm already in profit.
France, Ireland and Italy all came good so, even though the bookies were incredibly mean, I made a nice little killing. The most difficult part was betting against Wales but when you are talking money the head has to rule the heart and, for once, it all panned out just as expected.
Which is why England have to start being honest not just with us but with themselves. It was Steve Borthwick who used the word 'fantastic' about aspects of England's game after their miserable, soul destroying victory over Italy. This time it was Martin Johnson who used the same word about England's scrum! Shane Williams' running might be 'fantastic' but it is almost impossible for a scrum to be that wonderful!
Guys, I know you have to try to find the positives when you are confronted by a gormless reporter straight after a game but you are now bordering on the dishonest. It would be so refreshing to hear you are bitterly disappointed and that the performance you have just taken part in or engineered was a disgrace and totally unacceptable. England are now the longest 'work in progress' I have ever known - especially as progress means going forward and they are stationary at best. Own up, you are as dull as ditch water - without doubt the dullest rugby team in the world and until you confront that and ask why, there is no hope.
Face the facts. Ireland made 109 tackles against you and only missed one! Of course it says a lot about Ireland's wonderful defensive effort but it says far more about how predictable you are. Even though they were creaking at every scrum - how does a prop who has never been able to scrummage win 100 caps? (Now that is fantastic) - and had only 30% of territory and possession they scored three tries to your one.
You won more line-outs, more scrums and three times as many rucks and mauls but you lost because you have absolutely no flair. No wonder Twickenham felt like a morgue. Everybody seems to be focusing on the lack of penetration in the back division but I would suggest the problem is Johnson's obsession with power over pace in the forwards. Lewis Moody is fast in a wild sort of way but nobody else has any pace at all.
We hear a great deal about Nick Easter being a rock in the old Dean Richards mould but the game has moved on. The England camp appear to be in denial but he is simply too slow for international rugby and James Haskell is obviously enjoying Paris far too much. It is not rocket science - the support arrives too slowly and England are forced to recycle the ball endlessly without making any real inroads. They are very easy to defend against. At international level pace is everything.
Scotland are also pretty one dimensional but, unlike England, they have found a dynamic back-row so you have to lay the blame squarely on the back division. They huff and puff but they are all so predictable. Andy Robinson has done a great job with the forwards but he has to find some flair.
Italy were another team that had little to offer but endeavour. For the past several seasons they have been able to match most teams up front but there were precious few tries. Now, with the help of former Aussie Rugby League bad boy, Craig Gower, they are looking far more potent and the Pablo Canavosio try which settled the game was a gem.
Wales are certainly not predictable; they have the opposite problem. The forwards, particularly when there are several first choices missing, are flaky. It is no coincidence that they have given themselves a mountain to climb in every game so far. Before they go into a game the backs know they are going to have to live off scraps so they are desperate, too desperate, to make the most of every piece of possession.
I can excuse James Hook even though it was one of the easiest interceptions you could wish for because he is still getting a feel for his new role after being played out of position for far too long but Shane Williams should have learned his lesson by now. Nevertheless, his try was a joy and Wales caused France more problems than I thought possible which is testament to their ambition and running skills when they do have the ball.
However, I think we might have seen a different France in the second half if they had not been leading by 20 points. For the first time they looked beatable but, unless they find a completely new direction in the next couple of weeks instead of the completely predictable route one - not by England.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and a regular contributor to ESPNscrum.com