Tony Ward: Why this sums up whats wrong with England
Published 26/11/2011 | 05:00
I'VE never been one for kicking a man when he's down but, like the rest of the watching world, the antics and revelations surrounding Team England at the recent World Cup have left me almost speechless.
Had this happened at the height of the amateur boom, when rugby was beginning to take off in the direction of fully-fledged professionalism, you would be scratching your head in amazement.
The fact that so-called intelligent, professional sportsmen at the pinnacle of their professional careers -- how much bigger does it get than the Rugby World Cup? -- would behave in the manner they did simply defies logic.
Given what has transpired and what we now know from the leaked information, it is difficult to have the remotest sympathy for anyone concerned.
However, far from revelling in the problems of others, we should be taking in every lesson from what is one, unadulterated mess.
Regular readers of these pages will know my take on Chris Ashton's 'swallow dive' when scoring. To me, Ashton's self-indulgent 'thing' epitomises the very image English rugby should be trying to do without.
It might seem trivial in the broader scheme of things, but, for me, the failure to have this show of arrogance addressed is indicative of the deep-rooted malaise underscoring English rugby.
The English are the team everyone loves to hate, not because of Ashton's ugly celebration, but because of everything it reflects.
Let us be clear on one thing, ireland don't operate on any higher moral ground, but as long as we have a system that recognises right from wrong, lays down limits and imposes sanctions where appropriate, then the running of our game is in good hands.
And having players centrally contracted gives us a huge advantage over the splintered English club/union system.
As employer, the IRFU calls the shots and, as employee, the player carries them out. If that sounds overly simplistic, it is not intended as such.
The English system, by contrast, sees their players contracted first and foremost to clubs, whose paymaster generals (owners) don't care for the welfare of the national side.
The governing body here may have been slow out of the blocks when the game went professional -- remember the initial mass exodus to England and to Sunbury (London Irish), in particular -- but when they acted, they did so with conviction.
The wild geese were enticed back and, under the pragmatic stewardship of Philip Browne, the professional game here has prospered ever since.
What would the RFU give to have an individual of Browne's calibre running the show?
The English system may mitigate against unity, but even that fails to explain the lack of judgment on the part of so many senior players at the World Cup and, equally damning, the failure of management to address obvious breaches of discipline as they arose.
And strange as it may seem, I feel for Martin Johnson here.
He was placed -- by those who appointed him -- in a really difficult situation whereby he was selecting and coaching players with whom he had played.
That is not a healthy formula and again shows why any coach, irrespective of his dressing room or on-field influence as a player, should serve his coaching time at least one level below test rugby first.
In an Irish context, I would suggest a stint at AIL club level before that again. It's akin to teacher training, where teaching experience is central to every year of the course.
Whatever level they are at, wannabe teachers can learn very soon at the coalface whether or not they are equipped for their chosen vocation.
So it is with coaching.
I find the CCTV pictures of Mike Tindall and the other senior players involved in the Queenstown blowout disturbing.
Call me naive, but I expect professional players, particularly when representing their country (not to mention at a World Cup), to be impeccably behaved at all times. It comes with the territory.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust.
As long as the coach can trust his squad, and most particularly his senior players, to behave responsibly, then unleashing the social shackles is every bit as central to preparation as the most intensely contested training session.
When that trust is betrayed and management fails to act assertively, then the road to losing the dressing room -- by way of a losing dressing room -- begins from there.
And, of course, when indiscipline off the field is followed by indifference in performance on it, then the media wades in.
If going on the lash was a prerequisite to winning, everyone would be at it. In this professional age, failure to prepare meticulously leads to but one obvious outcome.
I know we are not comparing like with like, but I think you might appreciate this little nugget.
The previous time the World Cup was held in New Zealand all players received IR£15 per day allowance. With that we had to cover everything including contact (extremely expensive in 1987) with home.
England's players at this World Cup were paid £41,666 per man yet such was the lure of the monetary element for one squad member that apparently he was overheard saying after the quarter-final defeat to France: "There's £35,000 (further bonus money for reaching the semis) gone down the toilet."
Though I don't begrudge this generation their good fortune, all I can say is, thank God I played when I did.