England need a coach with patience on his CV
Eddie Butler casts an eye over some likely candidates for the toughest job in rugby
Judging by the heaviness of the "traffic" -- the chitchat of our digital world -- it would appear that Martin Johnson would have survived a vote of confidence. He was and still is admired and respected by the public as the England captain who lifted the 2003 World Cup while the players of 2011, who never came quite as close to the Webb Ellis Cup as their manager once did, seemed to be unanimous in willing him to carry on.
And yet he has gone, with hardly an explanation. He did not take the decision lightly, he said, but he was off, a giant leaving nothing but a wisp of more mystery within the mystery that is rugby in England.
So, another hole appears in the termite mound of Twickenham. Will it never fall down, eaten by its own colony until it collapses? Perhaps the Rugby Football Union are held up by the strength of Rob Andrew, the RFU's director of elite rugby.
On the day of Johnson's departure, this Atlas boasted, not without a trace of irritability, of the strength of four of his five pillars. Those who knew nothing of corporate good practice, he hissed, could only kneel before his achievements in age-group rugby.
His fifth pillar, the England team, was not his business, he said. Well, it was obviously his, because he was king of pillars, but only in the same way that a McDonald's outlet in New Malden is Ronald McDonald's, but run by the bloke from Tooting with the franchise licence. Johnson was the franchise holder for the England team, was given a free rein and his burgers were rubbish.
Andrew's five pillars of wisdom: he is far too bright and astute to allow anything to fall on him, but perhaps he will have to let go of one of them. Having washed his hands of any responsibility for the goings-on -- bit of sex, bit of scandal, usual stuff -- on the 2008 England tour to New Zealand, he is now scrubbing them to rid himself of any fallout from the World Cup of 2011. He was only the manager in 2008 and only the boss in 2011. Accountability and Andrew share little but a first letter.
Perhaps he should concentrate on the four things of his five that he does with brio and leave England to others. Such a withdrawal would perhaps persuade Nick Mallett to have a change of heart and throw his cap into the ring. He has worked in South Africa and Italy and knows more about volatile environments than most.
Is experience at international level important? The names of Clive Woodward, Eddie Jones and Jake White are dropped as naturally as leaves fall in autumn but the next England coach perhaps needs to be driven as much by hunger as knowledge. This would exclude even Graham Henry, who had a brilliant last World Cup. He is 65 and England could seriously damage his health.
But when he comes over to coach the Barbarians I would send envoys, trusted servants if such remain, to extract every last pearl from him.
He was, for instance, a master at press conferences -- or media briefings or whatever you want to call the daily routine that was so obviously an hour of sheer misery for Martin Johnson. Even when the tension was mounting in New Zealand, when seemingly every other day brought news of a No 10 down, Henry made the daily media slog his own little piece of theatre. Serenity and good cheer emanated from him.
Another coach with international experience who might love the challenge is John Kirwan, nine years younger than Mallett and like him a former coach of Italy. Until recently he was coach of Japan. All his teams play with sparkle and wit.
Might JK, formidable as a player and enlightened as a coach, bury himself too deeply in the analysis of what makes England tick? Or not tick.
He suffers from depression -- he is a campaigner for greater understanding -- and may be tempted to see England as one huge case study. After four years with them he could win plaudits for the most brilliant paper on collective madness but perhaps not the World Cup.
Here are four more names, all with no, or limited, experience of rugby at international level: Vern Cotter, currently with Clermont Auvergne; Todd Blackadder of the Crusaders; Ewen McKenzie of the Queensland Reds; Jim Mallinder of Northampton Saints, with a background of coaching the England Saxons.
They are all in their 40s, from Blackadder at 40 to Cotter at 49, all in the prime of their coaching lives, young enough to remember playing, old enough to have put a gap between themselves and those that perform now.
Mallinder is the favourite for the post, although there are two nagging doubts.
How is it, the question has been generally asked, that Ben Foden, Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton can return from the World Cup and be brilliant for Northampton? Mallinder must be a genius and Martin Johnson a donkey. Well, there is a gulf, for all that avid club supporters may not wish to see one, between the Premiership and international rugby. It is all to do with the reduction in thinking time and the knock-on effect on skills.
Mallinder is English and English people seem to want an Englishman for the job. But maybe England do not know much yet about decision-making in condensed time and space.
New Zealand stand alone when it comes to thinking about how to shift the game forward, although Australia are never far behind. Fear of being left in the wake of the All Blacks is a powerful incentive to embrace initiatives. England are a bit stuck, in no fear of being cast adrift by the others in the Six Nations but unwilling to shake off caution.
It is my feeling, ridiculous as it may seem, that Martin Johnson would have found the answer, with or without a coaching badge. We shall never know. One thing is certain: the hosts of the next World Cup need, for once, to make a good decision. Or they are the dust of termites.
Sunday Indo Sport