Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Martin Johnson - the chickens are coming home to roost

For Martin Johnson, the end of this world cup cannot come soon enough. For he simply needs to be put out of his misery and England desperately need a new coaching team that has a vague inkling about what it is doing.

The Argentina game was a shambles. A predictable disgrace and the blame can be firmly placed at the foot of Johnson and his useless staff.

As always, let me start by saying Johnson was a great player. Arguably our finest. And a wonderful, inspirational captain. But as I have already said and explained in previous blogs, being a great player does not make you a great coach. Johnson has been badly, badly found out. Heads must toll at the RFU for choosing Johnson. No question they bowed to media pressure and the likes of the morons in the MSM like Stephen Jones, Chris Foy and Mick Cleary.

Johnson had zero, ZERO coaching experience. How on EARTH he was deemed to qualify for the highest coaching role in the land is anyone's guess. But picked he was. And he was given the brief to build a side capable of winning the world cup.

Well I'm sorry, but Johnson has failed miserably. And the Argentina game encapsulates exactly why.

His stated captain, Lewis Moody was not even on the pitch - he was injured, as any follower of the game will know. Moody for all his many strengths, is injury prone and will never, ever last a world cup. He should never have made the squad and making him captain was a foolish error.

Andrew Sheridan has been injured for months. Yet he was picked and EXACTLY as The Chairman predicted (see earlier blogs), he is now on the first flight home. I feel sorry for the bloke. He is clearly a good lad and when firing (which sadly is never enough) is a good player (though again as I have oft stated he will always be found out by technically superior props who do not give away significant strength). Sheridan's departure is a terrible indictmet of Johnson's clueless selection policy. When this commentator can quite clearly accurately predict Sheridan would not last a world cup, how can the man in charge on 350k? He needs to take responsibility for his actions.

The starting winger for the England game was a player who never plays there. One assumes he knows how to play the position, but at London Irish, Armitage playes full back, and very occasionally OC. I know this. Why doesn't Johnson? He picked a player playing out of position.

Our starting openside, arguably the most critical position on the pitch, was a player who does not play there for his club. Haskell playes blindside or No. 8 for Stade. This is simple fact. Yet Johnson, due to his rank attempt at selection, didnt have a specialist openside to call on. Not even Moody is a specialist openside for god's sake. So Johnson has selected a squad in which there is not one specialist openeside flanker. And he still draws his salary?

I have not got the energy to moan about the centre partnership again, but just to remind people, Johnson cobbled this together 2 weeks ago in pure desperation. An ageing slow Tindall asked to play out of position (is there a theme emerging here perchance?) next to a Samoan 20 year old with 20 first class games under his belt.

Is this acceptable to you? This is pre-schoolboy stuff - asking the big lad to play OC in the hope he may scare some of the opposition. Its embarrassing. This is international rugby where opposition players to not scare easily. We need an IC centre who can pass and an OC who has a teeny bit of experience and who preferably doesnt want to play for a different country. Should Tindall get injured, who replaces him? A kiwi reject who is even slower and even less creative. Hape is nowhere near, NOWHERE NEAR international class. Johnson furiously defending the player was really about defending himself wasnt it? Johnson has been badly caught out.

A lot of people keep shouting at the Chairman to come up with solutions - to pick his own team.

"Come on then Mr Chairman - who would you pick?" they scream from behind their keyboards.

But they fundamentally and embarrassingly miss the point. I am not paid 350k a year to do it. I have not been coaching England for 3 years, tasked with finding a suitable combination in the centre to help england achieve something. And its not about what I think. I am criticising Johnson's inept coaching and even worse, strategically redundant selection policy.

Some of the Chairman's readers say it is not Johnson's job to create centres out of nowhere. Of course its not you DOLTS. Johnson's job is to find the right combinations and develop them at the international level, ideally more than 2 weeks ahead of a world cup.

ANY premiership player is capable of playing international rugby. This is a simple fact. Johnson's job is to find the right combination - one which works together, players who complement each other. I can't say who they are at the moment, can I? I have not ben tasked for 3 years with finding this combination. Johnson should have done this 2 years ago. But he didnt. He ended up panicking due to his own incompetence and picking a player out of position and a 20 year old Samoan.

I have used cricket as a good example of a proper selection strategy. The cricket selectors are now getting the consistency needed for international selection. Some england payers have dodgy county records. But the selectors see through bare statistics to find combinations that work. Its a science. Johnson just thought he could roll up and look menacing and suddenly England would win a game. Well its a bit more complciated isnt Mart? His arrogance offends me. He should never have taken the job and he is being found out. But he couldnt turn down the wage could he? I dont blame him.

How about the second rows? Lawes is a youth. His losing his head v Argentina was predictable - again I blame Johnson. Second rows need real depth of experience. An ability to read the game and take the right action at the right time. They dont need to be kneeing players on the head. They also, I would argue, need to be sure of their place in their club side. Louis Deacon? Please.

I'd like to see a winger who is fast. Call me old fashioned but that is my first requirement for a wing. It seems to work well for every other country. By picking Cueto and leaving Simpson Daniel, Sharples, Benjamin and former bloody Lion Monye at home shows the rank incompetence of the man. Watching Cueto play, having to cut inside every time is frankly dispiriting.

I like my SHs to be able to pass without taking 2 steps. Johnson appears not to mind, so he picked Care.

I like my back rows to be fit. So he picked Nick Easter, who isnt, unless it escaped your notice.

The Argentina game was an embarrassmsnt. The Argies are not the team they were 4 years ago and are missing some of their best players, while others are clearly ageing. Yet time and time again, England were slow to the breakdown, gave away silly penalties, offered NOTHING in the backs and nothing going forward. They were confused, slow, a rabble. They looked like they had just been put together, which given Johnons haphazard selection policy, they basically had.

It is too painful to watch. Of course England will beat Romania, Georgia and Scotland. Its not hard is it. Even this England shambles will get past these minnows. But come the knock out rounds and England's total ineptitude under this god-awful coach will be fully exposed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Some thoughts on New Zealand and the World Cup

I have long given the kiwis grief. Which is odd really. I love the country. I have many kiwi mates. A beautiful place with, in the main, friendly people. A country which punches above its weight and which despite its youth (my house is many many years older than New Zealand) deservedly has real national pride.


I cannot stand their arrogant attitude to rugby. Their sense of entitlement. The ridiculous posturing of their players and the rank and hateful attitude of their rugby fans. Their picking and choosing of pacific island players but offering no support in return.

Ask any former pro where they hate touring most and it will be New Zealand, for the relentless hostile attitude towards the mother country and the myopic rugby fans littering the otherwise deserted country. Their ability to apparently cheat at will with offsides and forward passes and a desire to win at all costs which clearly affects the integrity of the game in New Zealand and its officials. Yes, I am saying New Zealand officials cheat (step forward the hateful, belongs in jail Steve Walsh).

Mostly, I can never, EVER forgive the whole kiwi attitde towards the Lions and the quite deliberate taking out of BOD by that hired goon Tana Umaga. The most hateful incident in the history of the game. In fact, just thinking of that game now and the whole tour, gives me heart palpitations. The kiwis need the Lions more than the Lions need the kiwis. But the Lions were faced with hate, aggression and bare faced foul play at every turn. The whole tour was a disgrace for which New Zealand rugby will forever be held in my contempt.

And I have not even started on the bloody "haka" yet.

I simply dont have the energy to write about it. It has already been all over the bloody UK press. We cant get away from it. This grotesque macabre dance, with less cultutral credibility than a Morris Dance. A sponsored choreographed insult to both the teams which are forced, yes forced by IRB regulations to stand and watch 20 grown men shout and spit in their faces, and to the culture it claims to represent.

The pure spine tingling arrogance of the kiwis who insist on the opposing team standing there compliant while they are screamed at and dont let them do anything in return, lest they sulk and go and do the pointless dance in the underground carpark of the stadium, to a blank wall, thereby rendering the entire thing even more pointless than it was before.

The haka is an abomination. A fully paid up creation of the Addidas brand. Souped up by Wayne Shelford and refined further by McCaw, a second generation kiwi with as much Maori blood as me. Laced in bogus myth and politically corect Maori mumbo jumbo, the haka is an irrelevant insult to the history of New Zealand. And the morons like the monosyllabic Nonu, seeking to find insult in even the most benign of responses to the haka personify the problem.

The kiwis have been given a sense of entitlement in the game that no other team in no other sport can match. And the haka is the worst of it. This nonsense that it is part of the game is patently untrue. Its only been around in its current form for a matter of years. Check youtube for how it used to look before Shelford go hold of it. Its not traditional. Its a waste of time. A tourist trap gone global. When Brian Moore writes he enjoyed the "challenge" or whatever crap he comes up with, he writes it out of fear of offending. How can anyone enjoy being shouted at? Its farcial. It makes Rugby look like a joke.

"Ah yes Chairman, but its all part of the theatre of sport"

No its not. If rugby has to rely on a bunch of preening buffoons like Piri Weepu screaming for 5 minutes while his colleagues kneel down holding their forearm (bizarre) before the start of an international match, then the game really is in trouble. Frankly we should just knock it on the head.

"well its standard in schools - they do it before all school matches and everything Chairman"

This is also a lie. Hakas have been introduced at school level in the past 5 years. It was never done before it became this giant it has become under the current Kiwi leadership. A combination of superb marketing and the overwhelming political correctness of the kiwis, hand wringing and desperate not to offend. Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? Watching pre-pubescent kiddies doing a haka before a game of football? This is what happens now, all in the name of political correctness.

"well opposing teams need to face the challenge"

What drivel. Sing your anthem and kick off. Play rugby. Dont waste my time having to watch grown men prance about doing throat slit gestures or sticking out their tongues like a gurning 1980s clubber. Its not a challenge. Its a one way street, as demanded by the kiwis. Do as they say, or they'll run off and sulk.

And yet. And yet...

Despite all this, I can safely say the kiwis will win the world cup and they damn well deserve to. They are the best team by MILES. As the every excellent Brendan Gallagher in the Telegraph today reports, there are 45 kiwi players in the world cup, NOT in the NZ side. That is incredible for a nation of over 4 million people. About the same population as that cesspit of hate, Birmingham.

The kiwis are frighteningly good. They (and I simply do not undersand how this is the case) are bigger, stronger, faster, fitter than every other country. How do they do this? How do they consistently produce this extraordinary convyer belt of outrageous talent? I've been to NZ many times. Auckland is deserted. There is no one there. A few teeny tiny Chinese students learning English. Where on earth do all the rugby players live?

This is a tiny country, which has proved to be the best team in the game every year. A combination of bad luck and poor decision making has cost them the last 4 world cups, but it wont happen again. I dont buy this whole "chokers" tag which the Aussies have unwisely attached to them (by the bloody sports minister no less!). They are just too good. And much as I am already dreading the final, when we are sure to see hundreds of maori folk in fancy dress prancing round the pitch doing hakas, the kiwis will deserve to win this tournament and I will offer them my congratulations.