Thuggish England get expunged from Test win record

Spiro Zavos Columnist

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    Ireland 13–England 9. Oh dear.

    England’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of back-to-back Six Nation Grand Slams and a record 19 consecutive Tests victories against top-tier rugby nations was thwarted in Dublin by a fired-up, smart, relentless and skilful Ireland side.

    England played in their traditionally thuggish, arrogant, brain-dead, nasty manner. This bully boy approach to all things rugby, unfortunately, has been England’s legacy on and off the field for decades.

    If ever there was a defeat that was great for rugby worldwide this was it.

    Ireland played real rugby. England played bully boy rugby. Real rugby is the way forward for the future. The only way this can be stopped is if the England bully boys, on and off the field, get to dominate the management of the rugby code as they have in the past.

    Given its great number of players, about 500,000, and the great wealth within the rugby community, it is actually something of a marvel how unsuccessful England has been as a rugby nation.

    A lot of this lack of success is due to the arrogance of blazered brigade running the game in England for nearly 130 years. They have fostered a thuggish way of playing, brawn over brains, that has not served England well on the field.

    And the blazered brigade have been supported in their endeavours by elements of the rugby media. I need to point out here that rugby journalists like Chris Hewitt, Robert Kitson, and Mick Cleary are admirable rugby journalists and in no way should be connected some of their contemptible colleagues.

    The run of 17 successive Test wins by England, after yet another dire Rugby World Cup campaign in which they became the first host country not to make the finals, saw several of the self-proclaimed great and good of English rugby put the boot into all and sundry in the rugby world.

    We need some names here.

    First, we had the obnoxious Ian Ritchie, the head of the Rugby Football Union (England’s ludicrously-named governing body) telling the New Zealand Rugby Union that he would veto the All Blacks–Barbarians match in November at Twickenham if they (the All Blacks) refused the offer to play England instead.

    Ritchie, who is an isolationist opponent of a global world season, refuses to share the massive Twickenham gates created by southern hemisphere sides like the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

    “Build a bigger stadium if you want to increase your revenue growth,” he has told the southern hemisphere unions, refusing to acknowledge that touring England sides, with their unattractive style of playing rugby, rarely fill the venues in South Africa, New Zealand or Australia.

    Yet Ritchie believes that the New Zealand Rugby Union should generate massive amounts of money for the RFU by accepting a non-scheduled Test just because it suited the interests of the RFU. What arrogance!

    Ritchie presumed, like most of the England rugby establishment, that Ireland would buckle under the pressure of the England machine. Now that England has been exposed, once again, as a flat wicket bully type of side, one presumes that the Test at Twickenham against the All Blacks, a read deal team like Ireland, will no longer be so attractive for the RFU.

    Then we had the first of the two Jones, the smart-arse Eddie Jones the coach, scoffing at the praise of his team coming from the All Blacks coach, Steve Hansen: “It’s a bit like red riding hood and the wolf when the wolf comes dressed up as the grandmother… You always have to be careful when the All Blacks coaches compliment you.”

    Wrong, Eddie, once again. The All Blacks’ coaches and New Zealand rugby, in general, are passionate about creating strong rugby powers worldwide. There is a sort of missionary element in New Zealand rugby that has seen it take the cause of rugby to all the corners of the globe.

    It is a little-known fact, for instance, that the great Maori college Te Aute, an institution intended to create Maori leaders, was the first school boys team to tour to an overseas country.

    Te Aute came to Sydney in 1904. The skilful, expansive running game played by the Te Aute boys became the model that teams from St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill, the famous Joeys teams, emulated with great success for decades after this pioneering tour.

    New Zealand rugby relishes challenges. It acknowledges great rugby talents, in other teams and players. David Campese, for example, was always more admired in New Zealand than he was in Australia.

    The All Blacks played in Northern Ireland during the troubles of the 1970s when other British teams refused to go there, for instance.

    In the 1970s, too, they paid for outfitting the Wallabies on a tour of New Zealand. The motivation has been, as with accepting the first Test between Australia and New Zealand to be played in Sydney, to encourage a strong rugby code here.

    This motivation remains. And Steve Hansen and his coaching group are genuinely anticipating playing against Eddie Jones’ England side, whenever that Test is arranged.

    England rugby union coach Eddie Jones

    And now for the other Jones, the smart-arse Stephen Jones the rugby journalist, an overblown, overrated hater of southern hemisphere success, an invariably wrong pundit who is a multiple winner of Britain’s rugby writer of the year (what does this say about the judges?!)

    Here is Jones writing in the Sunday Times and making yet another botched prediction (we all make them, of course, but not as spectacularly wrong usually) on the probable outcome of the Ireland–England Test after England thrashed Scotland 61–21 at Twickenham two weeks ago:

    “England will go gliding into Dublin next week preparing for the presentation of the Six Nations trophy and if they win, they will make history with a world record run of 19 successive Test wins. And New Zealand, poor dears, will be expunged from the record books.”

    Note the arch nastiness of Jones attack on New Zealand rugby and the venom in the use of the word “expunged” in describing how England would take over the record-holder of consecutive Test wins.

    Jones can’t help himself with his vitriol against southern hemisphere rugby, unfortunately.

    The inference with the use of “expunged” is that the All Blacks record was somehow achieved by disgraceful means.

    In truth, the McCaw/Read All Blacks played some of the greatest matches in the history of rugby, bringing out terrific play from their opponents as well as dazzling play of their own. Nothing in England’s run of victories came remotely close to the sustained brilliance of the All Blacks’ play, even down to the wonderful fight back in their losing effort against Ireland at Chicago.


    I am concentrating a lot on Stephen Jones in this article because it is important to make the case that he is the voice of bully boy England rugby and that, in turn, if the blazer brigade running the RFU gets its way we could have a return to bully boy rugby England-style being enforced by law changes from an RFU-dominated World Rugby organisation.

    Every attempt to widen the appeal of rugby by bringing in a more skilful, more attractive, more athletic game through enlightened law changes has been opposed by the blazer brigade. And for 20 years or so, from his pulpit with a great newspaper the Sunday Times, Stephen Jones has endorsed the road blocks the blazer brigade have made to modernise rugby.

  • When lifting was introduced into the lineout, transforming it from a dockyard brawl into a chess-like contest for leaping pieces, Stephen Jones opined that this was the end of lineout steals!
  • When Rod Macqueen transformed the chaos of rugby with his continuity game, Jones opined that the running ensemble game was not real rugby. Passing rugby was boring rugby and real rugby, he claimed, was a 9-3 result played on a muddy field, in the wet.
  • As part of his continuity game, Rod Macqueen introduced, from rugby league, the two-lines attacking/passing system, one line flat and the other deeper and wider some metres behind it.
  • Jones opined when the Wallabies used this system successfully against England that it “cheating.” Yet the basis of whatever back line attack that England have used in their run of 18 consecutive Test victories is based on the two-lines attacking/passing system.
  • Jones has criticised David Pocock, George Smith and Richie McCaw, three of the greatest poachers of oppostion ball at the ruck, as “cheaters.”
  • Steve Stew, chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union, supported by his Australian counterpart John O’Neill, suggested that the business model of the World Cup tournament penalises New Zealand and Australian rugby by $30 million each cup year and that the model needed to be changed, Jones accused both executives of “barking up the wrong tree.”
  • Tew’s suggestion that the All Blacks might be withdrawn from Rugby World Cup 2015 unless something was done (which it was to a certain extent) was called by Jones “bullying” and “blackmail.”
  • And here is a prime example of the Jones arrogance and stupidity in full flourish. Spain could replace New Zealand if the All Blacks pulled out of Rugby World Cup 2015. Spain’s entry into Rugby World Cup 2015 would galvanise “European rugby at a stroke” by adding “new commercial potential and transforming the scene.”
  • This is possibly the most stupid proposition ever put forward by a senior rugby writer, anywhere and at any time.

    I seem to have missed something this week regarding this prediction made by Jones. Why didn’t Ian Ritchie try to sign up Spain to play England next November rather than the All Blacks?

    The Guardian’s Andy Bull has put the All Blacks versus England’s 18 Test-winning runs into a telling perspective. Here are the statistics he has worked out:

    In their run which included Tests against England, the All Blacks scored 751 points, with 104 tries, and conceded just 253 points.

    England, despite not playing the All Blacks, scored 621 points, with 72 tries, and conceded 300 points.

    On average, the All Blacks outscored England 41.7 to 34.5 points.

    They scored more tries per match, 5.7 to 4.

    The All Blacks played ten of their 18 games away from home, though seven were at neutral venues during the 2015 Rugby World Cup tournament.

    England played 11 of their 18 Tests at Twickenham, their home ground fortress.

    The All Blacks won eight Tests against teams who were ranked in the world’s top four at the time. The All Blacks won by 25 points or more in five of these Tests.

    England’s record run included five Tests against teams ranked in the top four. None of these teams were beaten by the sort of margins posted by the All Blacks.

    Andy Bull’s conclusion regarding these statistics make a great deal of sense, in my opinion: “Add it all up, and you arrive at the answer most people have come to without doing the work. New Zealand’s run was even better than England’s has been.”

    We come now to the Test at Dublin.

    The way England tried to take Jonny Sexton out of the Test with consistent late tackling was an insult to the spirit of rugby.

    Ireland went into the Test with a game plan of keeping the ball in hand and making the slow and ponderous in mind and body England pack tire in the slippery conditions. And this is what happened. With 15 minutes to play, and only behind by four points, England could hardly raise a gallop.

    Ireland allowed England only two lineouts in the first half of the Test, so successful was their handling and passing game.

    Ireland Rugby Union Six Nations 2017

    The tactic worked. England were run off their feet. Their very slow back row, which should have had a field day in the greasy conditions, ran out of gas, what little they had anyway, with 20 minutes of the Test left to play.

    In the last minute of play, England were unable to raise their game and their skills to score from inside 22 on their last series of plays.

    This was so unlike the All Blacks with their miraculous try and conversion minutes after full-time, with every player handling the ball, to snatch a victory from Ireland at Dublin a couple of years ago.

    Ireland ran for 319m. England ran for 214m.

    Ireland runners made 15 clean breaks. England made 9.

    Ireland made 157 passes. England made 89.

    Ireland conceded 12 turnovers. England conceded 11.

    Ireland made 108 tackles and missed 9. England made 153 tackles and missed 15.

    Ireland kicked 30 times. England kicked 34 times.

    Ireland won 113 rucks. England won 65.

    But what stood out more than anything or any statistic was the disgraceful and deliberate tactic of late-tackling Jonny Sexton.

    Mark Reason on Stuff reckons that this late tackling was “not attractive, although it was just about within the bounds.”

    I would disagree with the “within the bounds” qualification. It was not within the bounds.

    All the England loose forwards were clearly instructed to maim Sexton with James Haskell, Maro Itoje (twice) and Tom Wood, immediately after coming on to the field as replacement, smashing into the vulnerable Sexton seconds after he had passed the ball.

    This was the Bodyline rugby that Eddie Jones promised to deliver on the Wallabies last year if they were too competitive playing real rugby.

    Someone should have been sent from the field, probably with a red card so blatant was the tactic of illegally smashing Sexton.

    Rory Best, my pick for captain of the British and Irish Lions if Warren Gatland has any sense, made one of the great comments to the French referee Jerome Garces during a complaint about the Wood late-tackle.

    When Best challenged Garces over it, the referee somewhat defiantly replied in telling him to be quiet: “We are in charge!”

    He clearly wasn’t, nor were the TMO or the assistants on the sideline.

    Best’s response to these officials squibbing on their duty to red card at least one of the England transgressors should become a classic rugby quote: “I also have a responsibility to my team.”

    I don’t often agree with the New Zealand Herald’s Chris Rattue but, for once, he is spot on with his assessment titled Milky white England deservedly dunked by Irish cream.

    “Oh dear. Rugby revolution over. Back to square one for England, poor dears… Eddie Jones’ mob were back to their clunky habits in defeat against Ireland, their Six Nations campaign involving one mildly impressive scoreline against Scotland…

    “England – with one victory in the last 15 Tests against New Zealand – are light years from living it up to the hype. England aren’t even the second best team in the world… Ireland, under the astute coaching of Joe Schmidt, deserve that respect.”

    I will make a fearless prediction here. Eddie Jones reckons that this England squad will win the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

    Eddie, you are dreaming.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    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.