I woke up the other night T-shirt drenched in sweat, mosquitoes whining in the ears and delirium tremens stabbing at the eyeballs. “Don’t do it,” I screamed, “In the name of Prince Obolensky don’t do it.” It was the ultimate nightmare – the vision of an England player (no names please) scoring a try at Murrayfield and then kissing the rose on the shirt.
There is something particularly vile (and I speak as an Englishman) about the current England team’s culture of egotistical celebration. If only there was just a bit of tongue in cheek about it all – like Peter Crouch’s robot dance for instance – but no, it is all me, me, me. Or in the case of Chris Ashton, the ego has landed.
The English have to be particularly careful about gloating, because of its history of superior repression. There was much that was glorious and progressive about Empire, but there was also much that still rankles to this day. It’s one more reason why everyone wants to beat the English.
Men like Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson are respected by the other countries in the Six Nations. Men like Chris ‘Splashton’ Ashton are perceived as arrogant pillocks. That may not be entirely fair, but it’s not as though the winger doesn’t ask for it.
What is it about fast men? Usain Bolt does the Archer, although at least he does his strutting before the race and sets himself up for the fall. The wide receivers in American Football are notorious for their ridiculous, ball-spinning dances. And former England wing Andrew Harriman once waved Campo goodbye as he stripped him for pace.
Then there are the men who provoke near riots by their provocative celebrations as England could do at Murrayfield (Not that they are all that likely to score a try there having scored one since 2004). Emmanuel Adebayor ran the length of the pitch to direct his taunting slide at the Arsenal fans. Terrell Owens ran half the pitch so he could mock Dallas by dancing on the Texas star painted in midfield.
This England team has to play and react with humility, but is it capable? Captain Chris Robshaw is capable. He comes with a huge work ethic and there is a touch of the Richie McCaw about him in that he would never ask someone to do something he wouldn’t first do himself.
That’s a good start. And so is Stuart Lancaster’s request for moderation. But then Martin Johnson tried that and did they listen? No, Ashton didn’t. He may still not be listening. One moment Ashton says he has taken Lancaster’s advice on board, the next he
says: “I’ll be completely the same.”
A pose by any other name. It gives me the fear. When Flintoff stands in the middle of the pitch and does the Freddie, arms pitched at the heavens, there is half a smile of self mockery on his face. But can this England rugby team do self effacement? Can they avoid kissing the rose (it sounds like an obscene euphemism) and getting a mouthful of thorns?
A few years ago, before Ashton arrived at Northampton Saints, a couple of the more exuberant players used to get very excited when they scored a try. One would pretend to be an aeroplane, another surged wildly into the crowd. On one particular Saturday, the players did everything but remove their shirts.
A day or so later the team re-assembled. The coach was Wayne Smith at the time. With that dry New Zealand way of his, Smith looked at the players and quietly said: “Do you really need to behave as though you’ve never been there before?” The room erupted. The put down was complete.
The same could be said of England, the defending Six Nations champions. Do they really need to behave as though they’ve never been there before?
Let’s hope not.