…it really was all over.
The thing is instead of standing in his booth, as he did for all the other games and most of the quarter final against France, Johnno could have sat down a lot earlier.
Quite frankly he could have packed it in after the first minute or so.
England started off like the could have finally figured this rugby malarkey out but after the first attack from the men in white the French just completely took over proceedings. And even though they were within a converted try of tying things up it just never looked like happening. Giving the French a bit of confidence early on just made the outcome even more predictable.
In fact it never looked like happening from the very first moments of the first group game. Four years ago it didn’t look like happening early on but them something changed, a destruction of Australia later and they were one disputed try away from maybe causing a bit of an upset.
This time round it just looked like the whole bunch were never going to up a gear and get going. No they were going to hang around in neutral until put out of their misery. Though if we’d faced the Aussies this weekend, I think even though they won they were there for the taking.
Everything that’s been archetypal of the English game was just missing in action.
Starting at the coalface. Have a group of English forwards disappeared so quickly since the say about 1990? Of all of them there was only James Haskell that stood up and performed and yet he was sat on the bench for the first 63 minutes, as Nick Easter did very little and did it very slowly. While Dusautoir, Bonnaire and Harinordoquy just dominated. I think back to that quarter in ’91 – one of my favourite games of all time – Skinner, Winterbottom and Teague, they wouldn’t have disappeared like that.
So with no forward domination, Youngs played like we’ve seen of late, not the much hyped scrum-half of before the Six Nations but a dithering shambles. So it was all a disaster before anything actually reached the man most singled out for criticism, bar the head coach. Jonny Wilkinson.
Now Johnson made mistakes in selection, many of them in this game and the others, Tindall, Easter, Thompson, playing, Haskell, Corbisiero and Shaw not starting against the French. You can’t blame him for Wilkinson. Look at the Six Nations, Flood flounced about in the wins but when it came to the crunch match, Grand Slam game against Ireland, he completely bottled it. In the warm up games, Wilko performed in wins, Flood failed in losses.
In the final group game against Scotland there was one dangerous moment from the Jocks. Danielli kicks on and de Luca is bearing down now with usual Jock ineptness he knocked on but Wilko was there to make sure that in the unlikely event de Luca had grasped the ball he wouldn’t get any further. Can you see Flood doing that? No. Because I have no idea how someone has got so far in the game without being able to tackle. He goes in high with a kind of slappy action, or in by the side with just his arms, which opponents can break through with ease. No bone-crunching on show. So the back row non-existent, Youngs lost and Flood at 10, that’s one big channel for the likes of Harinordoquy to walk through.
Yes Wilko missed a number of tackles and looked a shadow of his former greatness, all you figure down to the fact that he couldn’t keep the scoreboard ticking over as his kicking game went to pieces. It was painful to watch as his success rate dropped amazingly below 50%. It had to have an effect on his whole game. But then we’ve seen Flood miss absolute sitters in less pressurised situations. And if Wilkinson is to slagged off for a duff drop goal attempt then shouldn’t Flood? Jonny maybe the past but Flood certainly isn’t the future.
The French though might have helped in this respect as Jonny didn’t, the try conversion apart, have the chance to miss any kicks for goal as they didn’t give a kick-able penalty away all game. And amazingly you couldn’t even have a whinge about the ref, it was one of the most even handed displays I’ve seen for a ref in an England game.
And that maybe is that what should be the final nail in Martin Johnson’s coffin. Discipline. A lot of the selection problems seen here will be taken out of his hands as the old guard are just too old now, you figure a number will retire. Patterns of play that just failed might be changed with new coaches but under Johnson the discipline has been atrocious. Never mind the off field stuff, much of which was overblown by UK and international media who wanted to bring the side down, it’s that ridiculous number of on field whistles by refs game after game hand the opposition three points after three points and giving the refs every chance to flash a yellow card.
I don’t know if he should go, as they say Woodward was given the chance to fail before he succeeded. But he failed with a game plan of bringing through the youth, knit them together over a period, where Johnno has used a large number of players as Sir Clive did but doesn’t seem to have such a plan worked out, seems more haphazard. And is there anyone out there screaming
pick me, pick me?
Added to that you have to figure in the shambolic nature of the RFU – those on the field really do represent those up top – and can they be trusted to make the right decision either way?