Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


The Same Barb, But A Fresh Wound

New revelations pour in today about the English World Cup fiasco. Personal revelations. The kind that cannot be ignored because they were taken confidentially and meant for in-house evaluation.

A series of reviews were carried out by the RFU, the RPA (Rugby Players Association) and the combined Premiership rugby clubs and were presented to the Professional Game Board (PGB) last week. As of yesterday some of the findings were leaked and although those that left statements throughout the reviews were left anonymous there was definitely a sense that certain individuals were meant to be placed under extreme scrutiny.

The most damning report was that of the RPA which let those players involved in New Zealand have their say without fear of reprimand. This is the report which has fallen into the hands of The Times reporters and has been printed in near entirety.

In said report Martin Johnson is singled out as not having “the b******s to take action, especially after the Tindall night. He was too loyal and that was his downfall.”

His staff (with the exception of Graham Rowntree) were singled out as being inept or unsure of the right moves to take for England. One player said, “The coaches’ philosophy on how to play the game was very different. The coaches really hate each other.” Another stated, “They’d had four years to develop a plan and it felt like they were doing it off the cuff.” In fact Smith (Attack Coach) and Wells (Forwards coach) were both said to be “out of their depth” and of Wells it was said “there must be 20 coaches in the Premiership who would be better.”

No punches were pulled in reference to the senior players, either. Lewis Moody was said to be toothless as a captain and the picture was created that Tindall was beyond caring about responsibility or his new found celebrity. The implication shines through that some senior players saw no issue with their behaviour and young guys new to the international scene saw first-hand that drinking, taking training lightly and having minimal comeback from coaches was acceptable.

Perhaps most worryingly, though, was the level of disparity evident in this leaked report.

“As a group, we behaved like everyone should pander to our every need. At times we were mindless and reckless,” one player said. Another stated that “it’s our own fault we came back so unpopular.” However, in the exact same report there were players stating that “Drinking games are something that happen. It’s a part of how a group of lads relax,” whilst one tried to fob off judgement claiming “Ireland had been in there [the Altitude Bar in Queenstown] and were much worse, but I think they might have taken the press with them.” The squables and moaning must have been at fever pitch…

Now without labouring a point it is clear to see that the England camp was a fractious one. Indeed the RFU itself is fractious. Just look at how those involved took to an independent inquiry from Fran Cotton. There was contention at all corners and it was scrapped.

When I was working in London over the summer I met and spoke with an ex-international who had attained a copy of the Blackett Report on the inner workings of the RFU and how the governing body dealt with the dismissal of CEO John Steele. Of course in that instance I was assured the leak came from someone in the RFU who had done so for the love of the game and because they felt it was the only way to ensure that the RFU’s didactic policy of blissfully ignoring problems until they had sailed into the cliff face would not continue.

In this instance I cannot help but feel this has happened for the same reason. No bungs. No back-handers. No revenge missions. This report, in my mind, has been leaked because people that hate seeing their game diminish have had enough of seeing inept coaches, selfish spoilt players and unknowledgeable officials retain their office.

Let us not make the mistake of watching on whilst shaking our heads. This has far reaching implications for the Northern Hemisphere. England have exposed long-standing traditions of drinking cultures and laughing off hard training. Wales were dubbed ‘saints’ by Northern press because they were not going out boozing. Why? At the very pinnacle of our sport we should expect a level of abstinence. Players don’t ‘need’ to drink. There are thousands of other ways to let off steam.

Scotland went out drinking at this World Cup. Plenty of times. Perhaps they showed some decorum. Yet Scotland’s internal assessment of their worst ever World Cup will remain internal. Why? Because there is no legitimation crisis at the SRU.

We have a new CEO. Our last one stepped before he was pushed, and now jets off into a life in the Far East with no worries about inquests and expletive reports. Our coach has a long-term contract and international pedigree. The players seem, on the surface, to respect his say and internal discipline has been shown to be sturdy and fair. As far as I can tell Scotland have some players who are on the fringe just happy to claim appearance fees but only a couple could be accused of thinking “it was more about getting cash and caps than about getting better.”

Martin Johnson “fell on his sword” according to a unanimous English press. Up here I would say that the weight of his own short-comings pressed him onto it. Rob Andrew is lucky to be there still and this leak certainly puts pressure on him. Particularly as he was named.

Messrs.’ Wilkinson, Thompson, Alred, Smith and Wells may soon be joining Tindall, Moody and Johnson on the way out the Twickenham door. For us things seem much less turbulent. An inquiry may be underway, but in reality we only need a new SINGLE full-time captain and some new faces in the backline and second-row. Townsend will be reviewed but we will likely accept him staying. There is still room for improvement with our team.

Scotland has issues. All Northern Hemisphere teams do. Thank our lucky stars that we are not tearing ourselves apart from within over them, though, and we have time to learn and replan. Perhaps the fans deserve to know what such a plan would involve?

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion