After three away wins in the Six Nations against sides who would be flattered by the term mediocrity, Stuart Lancaster is about to be knighted and the current squad are full of oak-limbed yeomen who make you proud to be English. The reaction to the victory in Paris would be beyond belief if it were not so utterly predictable.
What, you wonder, would be the reaction if England had actually beaten a team that was any good? Would there be enough gongs to go round? And before those with red rose coloured spectacles demand I be taken to the tower, let me justify why Scotland, Italy and France are flattered by the term mediocre.
Scotland have lost their previous six internationals. Their two most recent victories were against Georgia by nine points and Romania, who they squeaked past in the final five minutes. Italy have lost eight of their previous 11 matches. Their three wins have come against USA, Russia and Japan. Mediocre is a grotesque exaggeration, yet England were very lucky to beat both these teams.
France are of course more enigmatic, but in the previous 18 months they have lost to both Tonga and Italy and drawn with Ireland in Paris, a team they historically thump at home. There are also signs that the new coach, in the grand tradition, might be slightly bonkers. Against England Saint-Andre seemed deliberately to break the spine of his team.
He picked a full-back who is known for his hare-brained moments. He picked a kicking fly-half who bottled the match against Ireland. He picked a scrum-half, beyond weird this selection, who looks and passes like a slightly portly bank manager. And he again left out his best scrimmaging hooker. Crazy.
The French tackling against England was a disgrace. Julien Bonnaire missed a straight up tackle on Ben Morgan (he was then waved past by a various other gendarmes who seemed to be on a long lunch break) that led to the first try. Aurelien Rougerie ignored Tom Croft, when England’s blind side galloped in unopposed, in order to take the outside man who was already marked. And England’s other try was a cock-up of farcical proportions brought on by one decent tackle.
Despite all this merde, France nearly won. When the madman in the stands eventually sent on Morgan Parra and a few other half decent players, France dominated England. Referee Alain Rolland also bottled two penalties that he should have awarded to France in the final couple of minutes because he did not want to be accused of settling the outcome. But never mind the reality, this England team is the next coming.
In many respect I have a great deal of time for Lancaster. He has brought a bit of pride and discipline into the squad and kicked out most of the prima donnas. He has started to fix England’s spine. Ben Morgan should be a player for years to come, while Lee Dickson and Owen Farrell have at least played to their team’s considerable limitations.
But don’t be fooled. England are miles from the promised land. Lewis Moody, decent man, failed captain, prays the next coach will be Stuart Lancaster. So does Brian Moore and a host of other commentators. Moody even said this coaching team has “been there and done it.” Been where exactly? A World Cup? Even a tour to the Southern Hemisphere would be nice.
No, this hysterical reaction is a classic case of looking at results over process. But don’t let that stop the anti-Mallett bandwagon. As Moore said: “No country has won the World Cup with a foreign coach.” Hmm. New Zealand, South Africa, France and England have never been to a World Cup with a foreign coach and Australia, just the most recent one, when they lost to the eventual winners on home turf. So that’s some stat.
How about foreign coaches had a 100% success rate in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals against 33% by home coaches. Just as meaningless. Oh well, never mind, England have won a few rugby matches, so it’s open season in the asylum. The next nine months will be a much better indicator of where England is and I suspect the future is not quite so rosy as it is being painted.