Sonya Says: England must learn from mistakes or fear punishment

4 03 2009

The rage on Martin Johnson’s face said it all.

The pure venom and anger, produced out of frustration and despair. The utter contempt for his players and their stupidity. The exasperation and infuriation. And above all, the realisation that he would have to face another inquisition after the game from the BBC’s rugby interviewer, known simply as Sonya.

After Danny ‘Careless’ Care got the second sin-binning of the game for England versus Ireland, I decided I cannot ignore the national sides current predicament any longer. I wished to see improvements. I longed to see that winning way and battling mentality and exciting rugby I remember not so long ago. I wished to see these individuals show their true potential. But all I can see are the same mistakes repeating themselves time and time again, and it is becoming embarrassing.

Before the Ireland game as I understand it, England had the unfortunate record of 8 yellow cards in 10 games. Now it stands at something like 10 sin-bins in 4 games. To quote a plethora of pundits and commentators of the game – it is “unforgivable”.

The expression on Martin Johnson's face says it all

When presented with these stats, the same sorry excuses and mutterings have been heard over and over. “We let ourselves down. Everyone is hurting. We know we have thrown away another test match there for the winning. We’ve got to work on discipline.” But this Sonya lady wasted little time in cutting straight through the bull shit: “It is not sinking in,” she retorted to the forlorn Steve Borthwick after Saturday night’s defeat. She’s got a point.

The same ruthless conclusions were delivered to the man in charge, Johnson, with equal bravado. “Thank you for your honesty,” she said as Johnson trudged away from another grilling interview, having to take the brunt of scrutiny for his charges inadequacies. The courage and at times cheek this lady is able to conjure up makes watching these BBC productions compelling, if not for the quality of rugby. She is developing something bordering on cult status in asking such probing questions, whilst craning up at these 6 ft 8 plus colossuses in front of her, fuming and hurting and ready to rampage around the dressing room.

As for those who repeatedly cut dejected figures in the harsh light of day after another inexplicably stupid display, where can they possibly go?

It is clearly hurting the players and staff, but they simply have no one else to blame. The ghost is up as far as winning the Six Nations goes. If that does not present an opportunity to go for broke in mixing up tactics and team selection, then Johnson must accept that this game of management is clearly not where he belongs.

After such a mammoth display in the England white and Leicester green during his glittering playing career, it would take a brave man to tell him his time is up. Maybe Sonya’s expertise could be drawn on for such a task. Yet, this is not the football Barclay’s Premiership. He should not be axed so soon, if not for the simple fact that this England side has not been anywhere near the mantle of ‘world beaters’ for many years now.

Even in reaching the World Cup final in 2007, that feat was only stumbled upon through a form of grinding, defensive rugby that is no longer suitable for the elite rugby New Zealand, South Africa and even Wales specialise in. As the national side slumped to eighth in the latest world rankings, their demise has never been more obvious, and a need for reappraisal more urgent.

So Johnson, Mike Ford (defence coach), Brian Smith (attack coach) and co. must take a few strides back, consult their overly relied on drawing board, and reassess the players they have selected. For the problem the England team is facing can only be solved through the application of more brain and less mindless, incompetent brawn.

England's forlorn players realise defeat at the hands of Ireland after more self-inflicted errors

England flanker, James Haskell, in his column for the Guardian, wrote that over-eagerness is to blame for giving away penalties as a symptom of their ill-discipline. If such excitement and desire to be do-gooders is interfering with the synapses to such an extent, then perhaps their powerade and lucozade should be supplemented with herbal tea remedies to relax them into a game. The referee downright telling them not to play the ball on the ground is clearly not getting through their thick skull-caps.

“Because we haven’t been playing the quality of rugby we’d ideally like to be producing, people have been chasing the game trying to make things happen,” Wrote Haskell. “In such circumstances it’s easy to over-step the mark and, in my opinion, that’s why people have been getting carried away. Over-eagerness, over-anxiety … call it what you like, we’ve been trying to force the game.”

He said he had been in angrier dressing rooms…well why? Johnson should have been fuming beyond human recognition. He should have been breathing fire, hurling bodies out the way, knocking sense into the incompetent fools who are undermining what should be his glorious reign as coach and tarnishing the name that he established for himself as captain.

This team seems to think it acceptable to continually throw away games and let themselves down. Phil Vickery, who was guilty of drawing the first yellow card of the game at Croke Park, above anyone, should be inconsolable at witnessing such demise in form of the English rugby team’s reputation.

He has been in an England team at the peak of its abilities in 2003 and shown his undeniable abilities to get them there. Yet now it appears his weary limbs and his wearier mind would rather languish in the sin-bin than trundle across the park to the breakdown. He has countless times, fumbled about for the ball or tied up the player on the ground so as to slow the game to the pace he can still handle. As a former captain, before Borthwick’s ill-advised selection in my mind, what kind of example must he be setting for his younger prodigies?

Sir Clive Woodward’s name has been thrown up consistently for comparison. Since he guided the team, or forced as may be more accurate, to winning in Australia in 2003, and was there for the years of hard graft that ensured this assent to the world title, his story has been one seen as a basis for success. When his reaction to Englan’s woes was sought after the game, the conclusion was that these performances would have been utterly unacceptable with him in charge.

Phil Vickery should know better as the former captain gets sin-binned undermining the team's chances of winning

Players would have been dropped instantly for conceding penalties let alone being sin-binned, yet Johnson resists wholesale changes and has handed out more than one second chance to players in the Vickery mould. In contrast, the creative flair players like Danny Cipriani, guilty for his errors in having kicks charged down, have been removed from the firing line, for the time being at least.

This is suggested to be in the hope that a stability of being hard to beat will evolve within his England team. Only then can the exciting players on show in the Guinness Premiership be introduced and efforts to play fast paced, flowing, expansive rugby can be attempted. But the question remains as Woodward pointed out: is the inexperienced coach Johnson, finding himself in his first job since retiring from playing, the man that can teach his players the discipline needed to win in this style?

“It is very difficult having to learn coaching in international rugby,” surveyed Woodward following the defeat in Ireland. “You can talk about discipline and not giving away penalties but it can be coached. It is a question of whether Martin and his coaching team understand that because Martin has never coached before.”

All this points to one place: the old chestnut of the drawing board. The culprits of repeat-offences within the playing staff must either move out the way, or reappraise how they are playing the game. They must realise they have to learn from their errors, or fear punishments and being stripped of their place if they don’t.

As for the coaching staff, they have to start laying down the law to those who insist on undermining the team by being binned. They must look for the clever players and wise heads on young shoulders that do not make these mistakes. And both must go back to school in terms of understanding how successful teams are built.

There is no other answer. It is not the referee’s tough treatment of the players. It is not the opposition getting away with it. It is their errors and misjudgments that are costing the team. They are going to have to put in some serious homework if these lessons are going to be learnt, or else, fear the indignation of the fans and the wrath of Sonya.

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4 responses

13 03 2009
Gareth Edwards

Alright mate. Good article – although i find England’s current predicament incredibly entertaining, I do feel for Martin Johnson, one of my less hated ex-England players. Care’s sin bin was stupid but was purely out of frustration – Vickery’s yellow card was even worse in my opinion.

As much as Woodward did a good job, I can’t help but feel he was incredibly lucky to have such a strong pack of forwards – Johnson has nothing like that kind of strength to work with. Warren Gatland on the other hand….

Keep up the good work Rider.

1 04 2009
RaiulBaztepo

Hello!
Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

3 01 2011
2010 in review « Reassessthepress's Blog

[…] Sonya Says: England must learn from mistakes or fear punishment March 2009 2 comments […]

11 07 2013
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