It will be Independence Day in Murrayfield this year. With all the talk of devolution swirling around, there will be a bit of extra fire in the belly of the Scots. My hunch is that England will win, but that depends on them getting their discipline right.
It has become a big issue for them, but it needn’t be. My mantra would be ‘first things first’. I know that Stuart Lancaster has said that he is building with an eye towards the next World Cup, but I wouldn’t be looking any further forward than the first two games of the Six Nations against Scotland and Italy.
England go to Edinburgh and Rome on successive weekends and they need to go as a team. If the three coaches try to stamp their authority on the squad, as it seems they have with the axeing of Danny Care and Delon Armitage, then they will fail.
They need to work with the senior players and form a game plan together. We called it alignment in the All Blacks, but it is the only way to bring the players with you.
The senior scrummer, the lineout caller, the new captain, the halfbacks, these people all need to be involved in what England are going to do. Chris Ashton and Ben Foden are also both proven at international level and they need to be a part of things. Kids don’t listen if you tell them what to do, you have to bring them with you, include them in the process.
Was it the right thing to drop both Care and Armitage altogether from their respective squads? Well, I don’t know all the details and I don’t know the full extent of their previous, but we might not have handled it in quite the same way during my time with the All Blacks and we did have the occasional problem child.
Our strategy would have been to assemble Team Care. Call it a duty of ‘Care’ if you like. We would have given him all the support that we could make available. The approach would have been the same with Armitage. We have been there with Zac Guildford and one or two others.
If the players come through, then it is a big plus for everybody involved. But if they don’t come to the party, if that’s the right phrase, then eventually you draw the line. Unfortunately England’s new management seem to have drawn an immediate line. They have adopted a zero tolerance attitude.
It just doesn’t work with today’s generation. Look how many chances Sir Alex Ferguson gives his young players and he rarely disciplines them too publicly.
I understand Lancaster’s need for discipline, and he knows the kids, but I just hope he hasn’t been too authoritarian, too soon. If there is too much big stick, then today’s kids will eventually rebel against you. Lancaster says: “The message will get through.” I am not sure that it will in this day and age. It all looks a bit too like naming and shaming for my liking.
Scotland will certainly do everything they can to push England over the edge. I think they are a better side than they showed at times during the World Cup when I would have liked to see them play a bit more rugby. But then I would say the same about England.
Both sides have much to prove. I’m looking forward to it.
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