Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Day The Rugby Died - The Rugby Forum

Melodramtic but I tihnk this article deserve an airing :

The Day The Rugby Died - The Rugby Forum

Wednesday 9th January 2008. That was the date which may well be remembered as when England blew their chances for the 2011 World Cup. Despite being less then 4 months since the unexpected World Cup final appearance and the wealth of young talent presently in the Guinness Premiership, England may well have already thrown their chances away.

How is that possible? It’s a full 3 1/2 years until the world turns it’s eyes to Middle Earth and the next All Black hype machine becomes a disappointment… Well, yes, there is a long time to go. However if England’s rapidly ageing squad is to evolve onto the next generation, the old guard need to take a step to the side along with the upper echelons of the Union who prefer old names for money rather then young talent for success.

With the announcement of this squad for the Six Nations, there were many familiar faces amongst the names reeled off; Ben Kay, Mark Reegan, Joe Worsley, Ian Balshaw, Charlie Hodgson, Jamie Noon, Mike Tindall and Jonny Wilkinson, with Phil Vickery as captain. In fact, there is little change between the squad announced for this tournament and the squad taken to France in 2007.

This is a worrying turn of events considering how few the young English talent who’ve turned heads so far this year in the Guinness Premiership have been only called up to the Saxons, more worrying the number whom are ignored completely; Gloucester’s Andy Titterell, Ryan Lamb & James Simpson-Daniel, Leicester’s Ollie Smith, Jordan Crane and Danny Hipkiss, Bath trio Abendanon, Banahan and Lipman, London Wasp Tom Palmer and from ND1, Saints Dylan Hartley and 20-try Chris Ashton all missed the cut for Brian Ashtons squad.

For those still unaware, England’s Six Nations squad currently looks like;

Backs: Balshaw (Gloucester), Cipriani (Wasps), Cueto (Sale Sharks), Flood (Newcastle), Gomarsall (Harlequins), Hodgson (Sale Sharks), Noon (Newcastle), Richards (London Irish), Sackey (Wasps), Strettle (Harlequins), Tait (Newcastle), Tindall (Gloucester), Wigglesworth (Sale), Wilkinson (Newcastle), Vainikolo (Gloucester).

Forwards: Borthwick (Bath), Croft (Leicester), Chuter (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), Easter (Harlequins), Haskell (Wasps), Kay (Leicester), Mears (Bath), Moody (Leicester), Payne (Wasps), Rees (Wasps), Regan (Bristol), Shaw (Wasps), Sheridan (Sale), Stevens (Bath), Vickery (Wasps, capt), Worsley (Wasps)

Some fans will say with great enthusiasm “that looks like a step in the right direction” seeing the inclusion of Haskell, Croft, Rees, Cipriani, Wigglesworth, Payne and Vainikolo, but how many of these names get starts over the 5 match series is questionable. With the selected 32 as it stands, a likely XXII for the 2nd Feb against Warren Gatland’s Wales will be as follows;

1. Sheridan
2. Regan
3. Vickery
4. Shaw
5. Kay
6. Haskell
7. Moody
8. Easter
9. Gommersall
10. Wilkinson
11. Sackey
12. Flood
13. Tindall
14. Strettle
15. Tait

16. Mears
17. Stevens
18. Borthwick
19. Rees
20. Richards
21. Cipriani
22. Vinakolo

That team simply isn’t good enough and it certainly isn’t “moving forwards”. Sure, a couple of names have been brought in on the bench, but as a side with the perfect opportunity to build a strong squad before the next world cup, debuting 29 year old Vinakolo as a sub (who will be 33 years old in 2011 and has been pretty average since he promising Gloucester debut) or making the bright young talent of Cipriani play second fiddle to Jonny Wilkinson, who’s once bright superstar talent is fading fast, is a far too conservative selection for even the most Nazi of political commentators.

Other annoying risks being taken include the Matthew Tait, whom can’t neither tackle or go into contact without knocking on, at fullback where he’s been playing poorly for Newcastle and old warhorse Mike Tindall at centre, whom even the most one eyed Gloucester fan will tell you isn’t a shadow of his former self.

In the pack, Vickery, who has displayed neither the leadership skills nor playing the ability since his horrific injury 2 years ago, not only remains in the squad but also retains captaincy. Ben Kay, who’s not been remotely useful for neither club nor country since 2003 and Mark Regan, who’s only possible use is to wind up the opposition and annoy the referee, also worm their way into the side somehow.

Also on the wings are have Paul Sackey and David Strettle. Both are good workers for their club sides in the Premiership, but neither player is of international standard for power, pace, vision or skill. This presents a problem all of it’s own against any team managed by Warren Gatland and Shawn Edwards; Countering the Blitz defence.

There are 3 ways to get through a team using a Blitz;

- Cut out to the centre who will scissor with the wing, which requires very deft hands from your 13 and perfect timing from your winger.
- Chip over the fullback and collect, which will require the wings and centres to burst out the blocks and maintain the pace.
- Bulldoze your way through, which requires your whole pack and both centres to pick, drive and protect for the duration.

As the expected XV does not have anywhere near what is required, chances are high of Williams or Brew coming up the outside and intercepting everything Wilkinson or Flood float out to Strettle and Sackey, provided the Newcastle duo don’t simply hoof the ball downfield every time they get it. Should those wide passes happen and get intercepted, every time the Prince of Wales will end up one-on-one with Tait it’ll be try-time.

Add to this Jones’ trickiness or Hooks’ running ability pulling the string at 10, the rejuvenated Henson running the show at 12, the balls to the wall play of Thomas at 13 and the dangerous counter attack running from Sweeney at fullback, then England could be in deep trouble against a very different Welsh side to that which disappointed during the World Cup. A win is still expected of the home side, but an easy victory certainly will not be.

Consider the backline of;

9. Andy Gommersall
10. Jonny Wilkinson
11. Paul Sackey
12. Toby Flood
13. Mike Tindall
14. David Strettle
15. Matthew Tait

Apart from Jason Robinson, that is as near to the best England could have hoped for in Paris last year, but now it is completely unacceptable. Consider the Saxons backline likely to appear at some point against Ireland ‘A’ on Feb 1st at Welford Road;

9. Danny Care
10. Ryan Lamb
11. James Simpson-Daniel
12 .Anthony Allen
13. Danny Hipkiss
14. Chris Ashton
15. Nick Abendanon

In every position on the field, the Saxons will feature younger, quicker, stronger and better players then their 1st XV counterparts. This looks fantastic for the future (one would assume), but because of the way the England team is run and the nepotism involved in selection according to what club they play for, the world be lucky to see more then 3 of those players ever progress to the full international squad.

The hope that a new, young, hungry England team would run out against Wales at Twickenham on the 2nd of February 2008, aiming to rebuild and reclaim their world crown was dashed with the announcement of the same old squad England have used for the past 5 years.

And that’s why January 9th 2008 will be remembered, at least in English minds and hearts, as the day the rugby died.

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