Bosh it, kick it, stick it up the jumper, but just don’t run it.

When England beat Australia 35-18 in November it was the most lauded international performance of the year, and not just because it was England. Here was Johnson’s New England! Playing with width and pace!  It was a handsome win, owing much to running with the ball in the players’ actual hands, and a pack notable not so much for their chest measurements as their mobility, with Croft, Lawes and Moody to the fore.  England took their newfound attacking game into the Six Nations and easily disposed of Wales and Italy, and if they spluttered a bit through the second half of the campaign, they topped the log nonetheless.

But now, on the eve of the World Cup, all the talk in Camp England is of reverting  to what Martin Johnson describes as ‘cup rugby’ (translation: bosh and boot) and even flying wing Chris Ashton has said that England will ‘kick the leather off the ball if they have to’. Sounds terrific. The squad, loaded with five props, 17 forwards, and not a sniff of an openside flanker or a creative midfielder, is geared towards playing only one way.  And it seems Jonny Wilkinson is set to displace Flood at 10, a surefire sign that scores will be racked up in multiples of three.

So, what was the point in developing the fast-paced game that dismantled Australia and won England their first Six Nations since 2003, only to revert when it most matters to the old dull England that gave us such thrilling encounters as drawing 15-15 with Scotland?  Is this the shrewd thinking of a World Cup winner who knows how to navigate his way through knockout rugby?  Or has Jonno simply bottled it?  We suspect it’s the latter.  Perhaps Jonno’s thighs are moistening as the impending tournament stirs memories of his 2003 triumph, which was won with, shall we say, a less than exciting brand of rugger.  But that England pack was littered with world class players – the current one is nowhere near as good.  Looking at their group opposition – namely Scotland and Argentina – it looks like the best way for England to beat them is to put a bit of pace and width on it.  Why do these two dogged but uninspiring sides the favour of dragging yourself down to their level?
It’s enough to make us revisit our forecast that England will make a semi-final.  Perhaps this will be the year France, who are looking good, and will be happy to play it either way, finally get on top of them.

1 Comment

  1. That was a hell of an English pack in 2003, but its funny how the meeja have made Johnson the personification of that team and tend to forget the other players. The general thinking has become that England won the world cup because they had Martin Johnson determination and pig headedness, but i doubt its that simple and it does a disservice to the other quality that they had. Their backrow particularly was a thing of beauty and balance. People forget Richard Hill because he quietly did his work without being noticed, Neil Back was a superb traditional 7 and in Dalaglio they had the best player in the world. He was like Sean O'Brien ability in Stephen Ferris' body.I suspect though that the mutterings coming from their camp now are more about kicking drop goals instead of going for tries, than them employing a kick and chase type of game. I actually think that is fair enough for them to say and do and it might be why they go with Wilkinson at 10 and keep Flood on bench to come on when game opens up more. They got grief for taking drop goals the first day against Wales but now may be regretting not getting the scoreboard moving in the first half in Cardiff when they had near 100% territory but not the points to show for it. Drop goals have always been crucial at world cups and we may see more of them in the rain in Nu Zilund.Anyway, they may win tomorrow, but I have a feeling you are right and it won't matter how much they run or kick the ball in the quarters-France or NZ would have too much.

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