New Zealand All Blacks\' Sione Lauaki is pulled down by England\'s James Haskell during their international rugby test, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, June 21, 2008. (AP Photo/NZPA, Ross Setford
To paraphrase Gough Whitlam: ‘Well may God save the Queen. 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
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.

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The Crowd Says (33)

  • June 23rd 2008 @ 8:20am
    sheek said | June 23rd 2008 @ 8:20am | ! Report


    After the waffle England went on with after winning RWC 2003, & attempting to rewrite history, we wouldn’t want England to be top of anything any sooner than every 50 years.

    After winning the cricket Ashes in 2005, the players were awarded MBEs, or something similar…..pleeaassse.

    England is a country obsessed with status & style over substance. What amazes me is that as a country, they continue not to ‘get it’, whether its rugby union, rugby league, cricket, soccer, or whatever.

    Yet, back in the late 60s when I started following sport, England was a different place. They were the soccer world champions, although their rugby team was so-so. Their league & cricket teams could still beat Australia regularly, their horse racing was the best in the world, & they were world leaders in pop music & comedy TV.

    Countries change over time, something for Australia to be mindful of. I’m conscious Australian society is changing, & not necessarily for good reasons. We’re becoming far more selfish for one thing, but this is a story for another forum.

    At the end of the day, I’m not sorry for England, they only have themselves to blame. But yes Spiro, England for its resources, is a hindrance rather than a help to the world game of rugby union. It’s the French run FIRA, not the IRB, that has been more responsible for the development of rugby.

  • June 23rd 2008 @ 9:25am
    The Riddle said | June 23rd 2008 @ 9:25am | ! Report

    Lights touch paper and stands back……:-)

  • June 23rd 2008 @ 9:47am
    hayden said | June 23rd 2008 @ 9:47am | ! Report

    Good article Spiro. Until the English stop blaming the referee, travel, long season, poaching of PI players, illegal opposition tactics etc etc and face up to the fact that they aren’t good enough and need to overhaul the structure of their game, they will continue to be also rans. Stephen Jones wrote that this England team were a betrayal of the Guinness Premiership – they are more like a reflection of it. Their only hope of a win is to every now and then drag the opposition down to their level. And then to hear Rob Andrew have the audacity to lecture NZ about what is wrong with their rugby. The sooner he is pushed on to his sword, as well as the incompetents who appointed him, the better.

    There seems to be a hangover from the days of Empire that infects their attitude with arrogance and a refusal to acknowledge their shortcomings. There is nothing finer in sport than watching the colonials stick it right back to them.

  • June 23rd 2008 @ 1:26pm
    hayden said | June 23rd 2008 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

    Strewth, it just occurred to me. Spiro and Stephen Jones actually agree on something.

  • June 23rd 2008 @ 3:35pm
    Tom said | June 23rd 2008 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

    My thoughts exactly Spiro but I can’ help but wonder why their domestic rugby competition is of a high standing (admittedly i haven’t watched much of late) yet they can’t translate that into an international team that can compete Down Under.

  • June 23rd 2008 @ 3:40pm
    Peter K said | June 23rd 2008 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

    Tom – The European club competition (like their county cricket) is propped up by foreigners.

    Lots of SA, NZ, Aus, Argentinian, and PI players are there. For Argentinia and PI the majority of their best players are there now.

    So you may have a strong domestic comp butif the best players are not English why would the English team be great. The English players that standout in the domestic comp are the forwards. Far fewer English backs standout against the foreign imports.

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