England has a backline, but they will never fulfill their potential unless the team can win quick ball. This needs a total change of policy for the Six Nations. England must go to Murrayfield and stick it to the opposition. They have to smash the Scottish forwards past the ball instead of conservatively stopping at the tackled player in order to secure possession.
We want quick ball in New Zealand and so we concentrate on dominating the space beyond the ball carrier. We want our supporting players to get under the opposition and to move them backwards. We flood past the ball to create good possession for our strike runners.
At national level and at club level English teams are far too worried about securing possession. They are obsessed with sealing off the ball carrier. The English teams are paranoid that an opponent might steal the ball and so everyone jams on the brakes and seals off possession. It is fearful and often illegal.
Okay, so the opposition can’t get at the ball, but there is no dynamic forward momentum and nobody is being shifted out of the defensive line. No wonder England had trouble scoring tries against the better teams at the World Cup.
A country with over a million players should be the best team in the world and England’s potential in the backs is as good as it has ever been. Ben Foden’s a good player, Chris Ashton is a handful and Delon Armitage has always impressed me. But how frustrated those players must get in a white shirt. England has top drawer attacking players and they are seldom used.
Ben Youngs can also break teams up. Charlie Hodgson is a good navigator and made his mark when he came to New Zealand with the Lions in 2005. Manu Tuilagi is green but when he comes back from injury, he will prove himself to be a very good footballer. He has that explosiveness. It sometimes seems that England are World Champions at wasting talent.
This has to reflect club policy because English conservatism around the tackle is an attitude that appears to be ingrained in most of the players. Saracens are England’s leading qualifiers in the Heineken Cup but few expect them to win the competition with a game that is as petrified as England’s efforts at the World Cup.
In 2003 an Australian paper ignorantly taunted Jonny Wilkinson’s England with the headline “Is that all you’ve got.” England proved in the lead-up to that tournament that they could play rugby in many different ways. That legacy seems to have died.
The England winning World Cup team had players like Martin Johnson and Richard Hill who were expert at cleaning out opponents beyond the ball. What has happened since? England and the English clubs play a game based on fear and a generation of promising backs are dying on their feet.
That has to change.