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.

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