Nothing can save England
It’s time for the British rugby media to start calling for blood among the pompous rulers of English rugby.
It is a blight on rugby as world game that the country with the most rugby players, a king’s ransom in sponsor money – and the inventor of the game to boot – offers such a pathetic pretence of a national team on tour after tour (with the exception of 2003) to southern hemisphere rugby.
NZ 44 – England 12
Imagine the outcries from the English rugby media if southern hemisphere teams were thrashed 76 – 0 by England at Twickenham, or played as poorly – ‘catastrophically short of mediocrity’ according to Stephen Jones – as England did at Christchurch on this latest disastrous tour of a SANZAR country.
The preparation, the selection and the behaviour of the England side, on and off the field in New Zealand, has been witless and clueless. The quality of the rugby played by the side was abysmal. At least Ireland tried to do more than plonk bodies illegally into rucks and mauls. They ran the ball, made breaks, and tried to attack the opposition defences with runners. But not negative England.
When an England player was once again penalised for flopping all over the ball the referee Jonathan Kaplan, who did a good job (although he was overly generous to England’s offside indiscretions), penalised the player and remarked: ‘Again that man straight down.’
Yet after the first Test at Auckland when they were allowed to get away with this negative law-breaking tactic, Rob Andrew complained about Richie McCaw coming into the England side of a ruck. This was done when he made the tackle, which is actually a legal ploy (presumably Andrew doesn’t know this). To highlight the stunt aspect of the complaint, he said he’d give McCaw an England jersey to make his ruck entry legal. McCaw was given an England jersey by a newspaper. ‘It’s too small,’ he said dismissively.
Matt Stevens, the pudgy and rather hapless South African-born England prop, supposedly a great scrummer who was humiliated in the scrums by the NZ front row, has blamed England’s un-professional performance on and off the field on the tour on the fact that ‘there is a siege mentality out here and that’s what makes it so difficult to come to NZ.’
Get the drift. It was somehow the fault of New Zealanders that England had no idea about how to run the ball or scrum or do anything more skilful than flopping over the ball for ruck after ruck. And, presumably, it was the fault of New Zealanders that a quartet of players enjoyed group sex with an 18-year-old girl.
Now get this from Stevens: “The events of the past week have pulled us together as a squad … Of course, another heavy defeat was not the way we wanted to end the season. One of the reasons we are looking forward to getting back to England is that we hope we will get a little bit more support from the media, and the England rugby supporters, than we have had out here.’
Oh dear. How can improvements and necessary changes be made at all levels of English rugby when rubbish like this is trundled out, seemingly with impunity, by a senior player?
In banking circles there is the notion of ‘moral hazard,’ a situation where your actions place you in danger of breaking the moral restraints on a particular business practice. The term can be usefully applied to English rugby, and particularly to its leaders in the Rugby Football Union.
The RFU is the oldest of the rugby unions. Until the IRB became a force, the RFU, rather like the MCC with cricket, ordained the practices, laws and running of the rugby game. It still is inclined to assert its standing as the oldest and one of the richest unions on matters such as the laws of the game and the allocation of Rugby World Cup tournaments and so on.
But it’s time for the RFU to realise that by presenting teams on tour like the 2008 England side to NZ that it is entering ‘moral hazard’ territory. What is England actually doing for the world game? The England side in the IRB Junior World Cup tournament is the FIRST England side ever to play in an world age-group final. England has no great success in the IRB Sevens.
There is a big push for England to be awarded the 2015 Rugby World Cup. My question is this: If the RFU cannot be effective in running rugby properly in England, with all its wealth and great playing numbers, why should it be rewarded with another RWC tournament to muck up, as happened in 1991?
The correct answer to this question must be: ‘Nothing can save England.’
Give the 2015 RWC tournament to Japan. At least the Japanese will be respectful of the ethics of rugby, and competent and fair in their handling of the details of the tournament.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.