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'That' Decision

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ENGLAND RUGBY KIT
PA

So is it really all about 'that' decision?

Yes Robshaw called for a kick at goal, in the last couple of minutes of the game against South Africa and yes in that instance it was the wrong decision.

BUT, it was one decision, out of how many? That is what we all have to remember, Robshaw is making decisions every second of the game, personal and team leadership decisions, as is every player on the England side, all of which have an effect on the game. Robshaw can only control his own, he can try and influence the players, but mainly through making sure preparation is as thorough as it can be in the days before the game. Once the whistle goes, chaos ensues, and players have to largely make their own way through the chaos, remembering team patterns and goals and trying to ensure that they perform their role to the best of their ability.

The media and the 'man in the stand' focus on the highly visible decisions, and far too often we miss the real turning points, the real game changers.

So let's take a step back, a long way back.

In the late 1990's, Clive Woodward's men started their campaign against the southern hemisphere teams, and if you care to look at the results, they don't make great reading. BUT, they did learn from their mistakes, they did improve, and ultimately became the best. They were given time.

When Woodward stated last week that not kicking your goals is poor preparation etc, bad coaching, he does have a habit of forgetting that his team did the same - Wales at Wembley in 1999 being a prime example. I wish Clive would talk us through how they created the best team in the world, the mistakes, the learning etc and not always talking from the view of 2003 when they were at their peak. Talk to us from 1997/8, as that is far more relevant and useful.

England have been competitive, they have been in the game, but the frustration for me has been that they have rarely troubled the opposition defences. We look one paced, we are predictable and there are just not enough threats in our backline. When the ball fires out from the set piece, our backline moves as one, and it all moves at the same speed. We desperately need to see players delaying runs, changing angles, threatening a number of points in the opposition's defence. All areas that have been mentioned countless times, but we are failing on too many occasions down to a lack of precision in passing, catching, timing.

These areas can be worked on by individual players, they need to be worked on by the players, and it is an area that they all need to look at. It is all very well sitting in Pennyhill Park listening to the coaches talk about beating the best, listening to Robshaw and other leading players talk about beating the best. They can convince themselves that they are doing everything they can to achieve that goal, they can look around the team room at their teammates and convince each other that they are working hard... well they have to, don't they, the coaches are there, the training sessions are planned and there is no bloody choice!

What I want to know is during the summer, during September and October, is how much extra training was done? At their clubs, on their own, away from England coaches, away from England team mates? Because it is there that the difference is made. It is there that these players have to take on responsibility for themselves, and it is there that they will drive themselves to improve and hence drive the team to improve. If they want to beat the best teams in the world, their skills under pressure need to improve, their execution has to be more precise, and that comes from practice, and bloody hours of it.

That change of attitude has to occur before England can expect to be up there with the best, because the best have superior skills... and these players need to be working on theirs, and working on them all the time. That drive has to be strong enough to consume them day after day, week after week, not just when they are in England camp.

I am yet to be convinced that all the players fully appreciate this, so I can only hope that after the frustration of these last few weeks it will have become only too apparent. This is far more important a step than personnel change in my opinion. We can all debate who should be playing number 10, or in the centres, but we are all biased towards the players we watch week in week out at our club, when we might only see the challengers once a season. We have to accept that England selectors are tracking all the players, and are picking the best in their positions. Maybe in a few positions they are going to have to take a leap of faith, to inject the necessary pace and creativity that might spark the whole team but that it is always so easy to say from the safety of a keyboard when your neck is not on the block.

This November has been a reality check for England following a good Six Nations that surprised many, including the players. They have now experienced how hard it is to beat two of the best teams in the world, and they are about to experience the best. Just as back in the late 1990's, the key is absorbing the lessons, learning from the mistakes, improving the areas of weakness and as a result developing into a formidable side. As I have said, for this to happen, the most crucial aspect as far as I am concerned is the players taking on responsibility for that alongside the coaches. They have to train their backsides off over the coming months, years, so that no team in the world is better prepared, better skilled or fitter. That change in mindset is quite simply a must.

So, no, it is not about 'that' decision, far from it. It runs far far deeper

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