Tuesday 22 October 2019

England's review process will bring down no dynasty

The truth is out there, but panel members are unlikely to make it public

Stuart Lancaster has stepped down as England manager
Stuart Lancaster has stepped down as England manager

Eddie Butler

It's a shame that the wonderful Gareth Chilcott, ex-Bath prop and nothing but a prop, was not invited to add his two pennyworth as chair of the Rugby Football Union's review panel, especially in the light of an unexpected fallibility in the England scrum as coached by the previously inviolable Graham Rowntree.

Ben Kay, World Cup winner in 2003, is the expert of choice on the panel, but, to be honest, will know as much as the next second row forward - next to nothing - about the esoteric delights of the front row. This is probably just as well and Kay can claim ignorance and excuse himself from having to point a finger, should there be a need to do a Lord Sugar, at his former Leicester team-mate.

The presence of Kay, for all his insightfulness as a television pundit, does suggest a certain lack of curiosity in uncovering any uncomfortable truths. The absence of Chilcott means the chance is lost to translate his findings, originally drafted in broadest Bristolian, into a report bearing his name. Imagine, a Chilcott Report that is actually published.

Instead, it will be the Four Ians and a Ben Report. Ian Ritchie, CEO of the RFU and the man who once said he took full and sole responsibility for the appointment of Stuart Lancaster, is Ian 1 - Top Ian, who will no doubt go to the ends of the earth to find the idiot who signed up a coach with no experience. Ian McGeechan will bring quiet wisdom to the Inquisition, but didn't win his knighthood for services to public execution. Ian Watmore comes from the English FA, not exactly famous for barring no holds when wrestling for the truth, while Ian Metcalfe - and here I must declare an interest of having played with the dear boy - will bring a solicitor's caution to any outbreak of candour.

In short, this is going to bring down no dynasty. Bodices will remain unripped. The exercise has already been slightly compromised by the rash promise that this time confidentiality would rule - as opposed to the 2011 sieve of a review - but in the two weeks that have passed since England's Rugby World Cup exit, there have been more snipes than wade a northern upland: uncertainty over style; intolerance of any maverick spirit.

For what they are worth - the subpoena from four Is & a B has yet to arrive - here are a couple of observations.

England, steeped in its early-autumnal climate, anticipated precipitation in the air. The weather - so very contrarily British - and the Millennium Stadium roof allowed the world to engage dry-ball overdrive, from Japan's sunny day in Brighton to New Zealand's spree against France and Argentina's effervescence against Ireland.

The England players' leaked discontent suggests that they felt primed for the same attacking-minded approach that had illuminated their Six Nations campaign of last February and March. They were slightly confused when Lancaster packed the midfield with a weightiness conditioned to stop Jamie Roberts rather than to create chances for the England wings. The players were conditioned to run, rather than knock walls down.

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It is here that there is more confusion - perhaps even a contradiction. It may be an optical illusion, or a slight design/fashion flaw, but England looked a little full of girth at the World Cup. To an eye unaccustomed to the poundings of Pennyhill Park, they looked ready for a lot of bosh rather than going for 80 minutes in a long series of extended gallops.

It is the view of other countries within the British and Irish Lions family that England are not aerobically the most advanced. Powerful yes; long on stamina, not so. Perhaps the review panel should investigate England's conditioning work. Or at least invest in a seamstress to make the shirts a little more forgiving.

Graham Henry, World Cup-winning coach of New Zealand in 2011 and an influence in the ear of Argentina's Agustin Pichot every bit as positive as some of the advice that found its way into the shell-like of Lancaster was allegedly negative, opined that each country should have a distinctive way of playing, as opposed to trying to ape the ways of the All Blacks. All Black-lite doesn't cut it with Sir Ted. France's ponderous (and porous) performances were the saddest example of a nation that has lost contact with its rugby soul.

What is the essence of English rugby? If the four Is and a B go down that road, the Chilcott Report could beat them to publication.


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