There’s no denying from the fact that England’s performance at the Rugby World Cup was below expected. The performance against both Wales and Australia simply wasn’t good enough. And the fallout from those concessive losses is a huge amount of criticism on Stuart Lancaster, his coaching team, Chris Robshaw, the players, the RFU, the list goes on.
A review conducted by the RFU is underway to investigate culpability into the dismal performance, but I think I’ll do a bit of a review myself, starting with a small but, in my mind, significant point. Why was Luther Burrell excluded from the 31 man squad? Stuart Lancaster chose 4 centres for the World Cup: Sam Burgess, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph and Brad Barritt. Jonathan Joseph had played superbly in the Six Nations so no surprises there. Brad Barritt seemed slightly odd, having barely featured in previous Six Nations. And then there’s Henry Slade and Sam Burgess. Henry Slade had had one previous cap for England! And Burgess only two! Surly, going into the World Cup with two so inexperienced players was unwise. Luther Burrell had had 15 previous caps, and had played impressively in the previous 2 Six Nations. Stuart Lancaster had a 34 man Six Nations squad in 2015, 4 of which were centres. Kyle Eastmond, Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell were among the 4, none of whom were selected to play in the World Cup. If you want any kind of squad cohesion, you need consistency in your selection.
And now we need to talk about discipline. Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi were both available for the squad selection. Hartley is England’s most experienced hooker, and hooker is quite a key position in the 15. Instead of ruling him out due to his poor discipline, surly he should have been offered support of some kind. He was a big loss in the world cup; his experience and power would have been a useful asset to England’s campaign, although Tom Youngs did indeed rise to the challenge of being England’s number 1 hooker.
During Lancaster’s 3 years as coach, he had heavily invested in making Owen Farrell an impressive kicker and a great all round fly half. But then, right before the World Cup, he changes his mind and decides Ford is the best man for the job. Only to change his mind again for the Wales game, leaving England back without consistency or cohesion.
So what needs to be done? There are plenty of opinions on how England needs to be reformed on the internet, but I’m going to give my own. Stuart Lancaster needs to go. There’s no doubt about that. He was given the task of improving upon England’s 2011 performance and he failed to do so. Whether any of the other coaching staff should remain, I don’t know; there’s the possibility that Andy Farrell had too much say in decisions. England needs a new captain. In the Six Nations, Robshaw led by example. In the World Cup, with his performance, I think his position as captain was the only thing saving him from not being dropped for the Australia game. And so, who should be the next captain? There’s Tom Wood, who played very well and was considered to be the front-runner for the position when Lancaster was appointed. However, I believe it should be Mike Brown. He leads by example, displays tremendous passion for his country stands up for his fellows players, and is generally an outstanding full back. Whatever changes the RFU choose to make, they need to happen soon. They’ve had a number of weeks since England crashed out of the World Cup. If there’s, going to be a new coach, he needs time to settle before the all important 2016 Six Nations.