Bugger....

Bugger. Bang goes the knighthood then. It was grim, just grim. We all knew that getting through the group would be challenging. The manner of England's exit though has left us numb. Outplayed in every single facet of the game against Australia there is no mitigation, no redemption, no 'close fought battle but the best team won on the day,' piece of wreckage to cling to. They didn't even listen to Crumble's advice from March.

I’m reminded of that great quote from JPR Williams after Wales were thumped by the Aussies in 1984, “No leadership, no ideas. Not even enough imagination to thump someone in the line-up when the ref wasn’t looking.” (which is exactly what I posted on our exit from the last World Cup).

Rugby fans are a realistic, knowledgeable, philosophical and fair minded bunch. The bottom line though is that England supporters deserved so much more. From the young lads who play in the driving rain and sleet throughout the winter at clubs and schools, their coaches, the  Mum's who make the bacon butties in the clubhouses to the Twickenham faithful who have been paying through the nose to watch little collective improvement over twelve years, they have all been badly let down by a team that choked on the day when it mattered most. This is the generation of players who should have been inspired by the schoolboy heroes in 2003 they grew up watching to emulate them. The boost that English rugby received after that win was formidable. Such was the surge in enthusiasm for the game, individual age groups at clubs had north of 50 players per age group turning out on Sunday mornings. Something has gone very badly wrong if we can't cobble together a team that can give Australia a decent match with those kind of resources.

Australia looked a complete team of old with none of their perceived weaknesses evident, especially up front. When everyone is thinking the same though, nobody is thinking. Except Michael Cheika. He has done an outstanding job in just twelve months in reenergising and inspiring Australian rugby which wasn't in great shape prior to his appointment. Its easy to forget the limited pool of player resource available to the Wallabies given union isn't played in much more than 12 schools and the allure of other sports increases every year. Despite that, the sight of the England pack being shunted around the park was embarrassing and left the rugby die-hards I was with subdued  into silence.

Mike Teague; Anglo Saxon Menace

The 'thanks for coming,' epitaph and being reduced to being the caterers, waiters and barmen for the rest of the competition is pretty upsetting and while we'll enjoy the games the spirit will be sagging. There are unanswered questions, about selection especially. The Ford, Burgess, Armitage, Burrell, Hartley debates will continue for quite a while but if I was to highlight one thing which has troubled me about the team it would be the lack of street smart menace. Great English teams have always had a few edgy players. Apart from Brown its not clear who else exudes the kind of match cunning, fighting spirit and threatening behaviour that dominates and intimidates other teams physically and psychologically. Instead we have two muppets in Farrell and Burgess with simultaneous dangerous infractions in front of the referee in the last quarter of a losing game. Farrell was binned, Burgess should have been red carded but escaped. That isn't the kind of match cunning to which I allude. In short, the Lancaster regime is too nice, too decent and too naive. They've managed to make the shambolic 'Mike Tindall's stag weekend,' squad we sent to the last World Cup look pretty competent. We're putting boys out against men, soldiers against warriors, individuals against teams. 

I'm not sure where that leaves the coaching team and if they should be tinned or not. Perhaps it just a fact of life that everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence. Instinctively it feels like they should go, so complete has been the failure to do, well anything to an acceptable standard. Australia's second try was a simple demonstration of how we are being out thought before the team ever steps onto the pitch. We're not good enough for this competition and frankly, there are some second tier teams out there who could rattle England's cage on their day.  It seems obvious that we need some Southern Hemisphere input into the set up at some level. One thing is for sure, inaction is not acceptable. England are going backwards but the worry is we seem to have more gears in reverse than we do forward.

So, what is the Crumble view? I've had quite enough of contrition and humility which has been too fashionable under this regime. We are a great rugby nation but one which has lost its winning GPS, (actually, it was trashed in Cardiff in 2013 and we've never really recovered).  To be good at something, you need a touch of arrogance and that comes with self belief. Compare the wild eyed look in the Scots in their recent matches with what you saw in our players eyes in the first five minutes last night. 

A good start, would be to exert pressure from supporters, players, (amateur and professional from schoolboys up), and their coaches on Sir Clive Woodward and the RFU to stop acting like spoilt children, to sit down and figure out how they can work together for the benefit of English rugby. If Lancaster is to stay then most of us would agree he needs a mentor to assist with a hand on the tiller here and there. If he is to be replaced then Woodward should be involved at some level; it's simply barking that he's not. And Wilko? Seems pretty obvious doesn't it? We missed the opportunity to lift Sir Ian McGeechan five years ago; lets not muck it up again. 

 

It's Not The Despair....................

Three days after The Match and I've just about recovered from the hangover resulting from the long match inquest I went through with an old chum while enjoying a rib of beef at a long lunch on Sunday. 

I had thought that leaving it for a few days might give some comments a perspective they would otherwise have missed but I don't think that's going to happen. It was a devastating loss which has probably left the players as bewildered as it did the crowd and the millions at home who spent the last ten minutes choking on their beer, shouting at the television and reaching for their old boots willing to pop down to Twickenham to give the lads a hand. 

I'm one of the few who thought the call to go for a line out rather than a penalty was ballsy but justified. Why, having stepped up and made that call they then failed to have the courage of their convictions and then threw a short line out ball is however, mystifying. If you are taking the fight to the opposition you have to follow it through with single minded determination and aggression. If it had worked, of course the team would be feted as heroes. It didn't and their judgement is in question. We had though, lost the game well before then during a quite incredible Welsh second half fight back. Having suffered multiple casualties, (I think that Polish cryotherapy nonsense has made their bodies brittle),  they threw away the spreadsheets and playbooks and played the kind of rugby that is hard coded in their DNA. It was a wonder to behold for anyone except the  English fans left open mouthed with incredulity. 

England were shocking in the second half. I've often thought that Stuart Lancaster should be nailed to his seat at half time and not allowed anywhere near the team dressing room. This is far from the first time that England have trotted out looking shapeless and unfocused compared to their first half performance. The World Cup was always going to be a mountain to climb for England given team selection has never really settled in a way that previously successful teams have enjoyed. Playing Burgess, who up until Saturday had played less than 120 minutes of Test rugby, and never looks quite comfortable, is questionable but I guess its a gamble that had England won would have been fully justified with fans up and down the country saying,'I always knew the lad would come good.' I hope he still will. England can of course still progress and all is very far from lost. As an Aussie friend said to me afterward, 'the thing about England is one win and you're on the march but one loss and the worlds coming to an end.' 

It's only a game love..................

For the Welsh, it was an epic win and one that we'll reminded of for the rest of our lives. That is an uncomfortable prospect but  only the most small minded would deny them their moment of joy; they earned it.

Saturday has become the sort of day that World Cups are all about. We'll be expecting to dominate with pragmatic forward play and the Aussies will chuck the ball around with all the abandon usually seen at a prep school sevens tournament. Or will they? It's a mouthwatering prospect and I absolutely can not wait.

As for Stuart Lancaster, if I were him I'd forget about all the Agincourt / St George stuff and start my pre-match talk with, 'right lads, we've got them right where we want them...............'

(Thanks Tim)