The loss at Murrayfield was the last straw – it’s time for Ashton to make changes or go
It seems that exceptional circumstances are preventing me from sticking to my strict ‘University only’ rule on content for this column. Anyone tuned in to BBC 1 from 3pm to 5pm on Saturday will know why. That’s right – England rugby.
I have been a staunch supporter of Brian Ashton. His record speaks for itself, he has consistently been at the pinnacle of the coaching world for over 20 years. But I am quickly losing faith. From numbers 1 to 22 on Saturday, the team lacked direction, passion, commitment and control and I think it is finally time for the knee-jerk reaction – bring in the youngsters and kick out the old guard, including Ashton himself.
Yes, we might lose for a while. We will almost certainly lose at Croke Park, but we will lose if we played twice as well as we did on Saturday with this team. It isn’t fair to pick on individual players, so I am going to pick on all of them. Let’s start with the ‘lynchpin’, Johnny Wilkinson. He was dire. No-one who saw that game can say he was anything other than appalling. His kicking out of hand was embarrassingly bad, and he failed to run the game in any capacity.
To be honest, the supply of ball he got from the forwards was sketchy at best. As a collective, the pack was rudderless. The experienced players are supposed to bring control and leadership. Both were conspicuous by their absence on Saturday. Nick Easter is too slow, and just too unfit for international rugby. He does very little work on the ground and makes no yards in attack. Steve Borthwick is even more anonymous, seeming to think that he is there to catch lineout ball then take a breather. He should go.
I am also finding it increasingly difficult to find anything that Vickery does. Yes, he is a dominant scrummager, but so is Stevens, and the Bath man is far more dynamic in the loose. Elsewhere, Simon Shaw needs to learn the rules of rucking and stop giving away obvious penalties, and Sheridan needs to develop some game awareness. Rounding off the pack, Lipman and Croft were comfortably outplayed by the Scottish back three.
Moving onto the backs, Wigglesworth was solid, but needs to find a way to get the ball away from the contact area quicker. Flood looks a little awed on this stage and is still learning, and Noon is an unskilled battering ram, albeit exceptional defensively. Sackey is solid, if unspectacular on the wing, although he seems to lack much of an ability or instinct to counter-attack and Vainikolo shouldn’t play until he learns the rules of Union.
Last but not least is Balshaw, who actually wasn’t that terrible on Saturday. However, the fact that I am complimenting him for not playing as badly as usual means that he should go. Unfortunatly, Ashton has just signed a new deal, so he won’t go. He will also retain faith with the older players out of misplaced belief that they deserve their place, so while some changes may be made, they won’t be enough.
For those who think that I am listing problems without solutions, the follow-up to this column at www.nouse.co.uk/sport will contain my constructive suggestions for the new England 22. Any comments are welcome.