Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dust to Dust.

As England crumble miserably in the face of a torrential assault in Brisbane, the obits must be being primed for rugby's Robbo, in spite of last week's victory.

The difference in pedigree between Duncan Fletcher and Andy Robinson could not be more pronounced, but as both the men in whites and the soon-to-be deposed World Champions struggle against Southern hemisphere opposition their respective coaches must be fingering their colours with grim desperation.

After Ireland's sublime subjugation of the Aussie's last week, we saw a vibrant example of how European teams need to take their game to their antipodean counterparts. The energy of their back row (the destructive power of Neil Best contrasted with Dennis Leamy's tireless probing) was strikingly at odds with what England's 6, 7 and 8 have managed to produce, today or at any point over the past three weeks.

There is currently not a man in the England set-up who can be said to stand head and shoulders above the sea of mediocrity that has characterised Robinson's reign. Corry's workaday honesty on the pitch is not enough to inspire a tragically one-dimensional squad, while the engine room components such as Worsley, Sanderson and Moody fire repeatedly but equally fail to ignite. From 9 through to 15 there seems a lack of confidence, ideas and sheer gumption - today, as before, runners declined to fix their man, offloaded in dead territory, and watched on as wave after wave of attack sputtered out. Of the personnel, maybe Cueto, Lewsey and Tom Palmer have distinguished themselves this autumn, but the rest has been little short of dross.

Robinson's claim that things were 'happening' when England moved into their early 14-3 lead seemed more self-deception that conviction; but his pugnacious refusal to bite the bullet sums up the team's bloody-minded approach to the game. It's been said that Robinson is nothing more than a good forwards coach thrown in at a depth he wasn't prepared for, but what seems certain is that his inability to appreciate the subtleties of international rugby is harming our chances. Surely the more scholarly Andrews must feel that a fresh and innovative approach is required. In becoming an immovable object, in the worst sense, England have lost their irresistible force.

As New Zealand grind Wales into the Millennium turf, the sporting landscape looks bleak currently (there's not time to even begin to poke at McClaren's footballing travails). Awaking to discover we'd barely scraped a quarter of the Kangeroo's total in the cricket was disheartening enough. Fletcher has earned a few breaks since he took over, but his decision to leave out Panesar has left him open to criticism. With the attack looking toothless apart from Flints, and Harmison's radar completely wonked, Monty's probing and restrictive spin could have proved vital. We'll never know. The one hope is that England's young team can learn a lot from facing such naked aggression, and use it to school a decrepit Australian squad in 2009. Woodward took Wilkinson and co on the Tour to Hell in '98, and it paid dividends years later. Out of the pain of defeat...

Our cricketing and rugby fortunes shouldn't converge any more than they already have. Although we're odds-on to lose at the Gabba, respectability can still be extracted from the tour. Half the battle, as ever, is psychological, and if the lads screw their heads on, they should be able to compete, even if drawing the series to retain the urn is ultimately beyond them. At Twickenham, I think there are two options. 1) Leave Robinson with the car keys until after World Cup, see how we hobble through it, and then get out the wrecking ball and tear up the entire professional set-up. 2) Depose him now, try a host of new players and ideas in the Six Nations, then hit the World Cup like a wet-behind-the-ears terrier.

We surely couldn't do any worse than currently?


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