Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

FEATURE Mission Impossible?

Mission Impossible?
9 months ago

Tracking England’s misadventures contrasting fortunes at World Cups in recent years has not been for the squeamish rarely, if ever, been dull. The 2011 campaign, you’ll recall, was a lurid, dwarf-tossing, beer-stained, Fleet Street feeding-frenzy missed opportunity and the 2015 edition – on home soil – fell halfway between a farce and a fiasco somewhat short of expectations.

But, of course, last time out in Japan, England – love a duck gloriously – made the final only to get tossed off the bus one stop short of glory out-muscled by the redoubtable Springboks. No question, if this England team could make it to the final again four years later, you’d eat your hat be quietly hopeful they’d go one better. 

Yet you have to accept that the warm-up games – the injuries, the suspensions and the cheerless performances, have been so far a witch’s curse testing time for the new coaching team. And while they continue to thumb through the instruction manual burn the midnight oil fine-tuning the England machine, it’s perhaps inevitable that the team will look like an unsorted jigsaw in a jockstrap a work in progress. 

So, not surprisingly, England will be heading across the Narrow Sea written off by every know it all and newspaper hack as a bunch of deadbeats, bums, has-beens, losers and rank no hopers somewhat under the radar. Can they even beat Chile go all the way? It’s becoming a worry by no means impossible. Frankly, all this could yet end up looking like a bad dose of roadkill fiendishly cunning plan to lull the rugby world into a false sense of security. How forlorn a hope devious a ploy would that be?  

Jamie George
England’s preparation for the World Cup has fallen short of expectations (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

And let’s not forget, history does offer England’s long-suffering shires loyal supporters a mirage of false hope reasons to be cheerful given that back in the last World Cup in France in 2007, a borderline anarchic wonderfully resilient England side bizarrely heroically made it to the final. Frankly, it was harder to explain than Christmas crackers an astonishing defensive effort which, intriguingly, shows what’s possible when you stiffen your codpiece, and cry, ‘God for England, Harry and St George’, get stuck in.   

But 16 years on, here they are, once again, heading to a World Cup in France looking like Charlie Foxtrot’s twin brother somewhat at sixes and sevens. Losing the skipper, clutch goal kicker, principal conductor and chief bottle-washer for their two most important pool games is a 24-carat calamity little unfortunate but you have to say that Owen Farrell has previous been grossly scapegoated by social media. 

True, his tackle technique can, at times, look as though he’s barricading a door against a bailiff somewhat more upright than is ideal but, then again, rugby’s overlords’ crackdown on needless, mind-altering, head shots has been in place now for nigh on four years a minefield of contradictory interpretations.

And then there’s the other England mainstay who’ll be sitting in the one and ninepennies for the all important Argentina game Billy Vunipola, whose suspension which is all the more catastrophic not exactly ideal given England’s bizarre bold decision to pick just one specialist No 8 for the World Cup. What can you say, other than it’s a dog’s breakfast fabulous opportunity for Ben Earl.

Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola’s red card and subsequent ban increased England’s problems ahead of the Argentina game (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Whichever way you slice it, England’s August has been a wheelie-bin of misery priceless learning experience. Their game against Fiji was like watching someone taking off their clothes at a bus stop nip and tuck, a Sturm und Drang of an afternoon where England couldn’t even muster a losing bonus point quite shut down a resourceful Fijian side. 

And all this in a stadium that was 25,000 voices short somewhat subdued. Indeed, at an even estimate – say, £50 a head – that’s not just a historic defeat but a £1.25million kick in the coffers bit of a shortfall at the turnstiles. Both on and off the pitch right now, England are tanking not exactly blue chip stock. 

In Dublin the week before, a ring-rusty Ireland turned in one of their clunkiest performances in recent memory weren’t quite match sharp yet still cantered home by five tries to one nicked the result. But, on the upside, only one England player was sent off George Ford looked sharp. 

And, yes, a callow committed Wales did outlast Steve Borthwick’s team 37-28 on aggregate over their two matches, the first England performance being abject somewhat flat and the second being a carnival of chaos streaky but invaluable win. This, of course, is the same Welsh team whom South Africa sprinkled on their Corn Flakes got the better of in Cardiff just a week later. Bugger me. No matter. England have quite enough on their plate with Argentina, Japan and Samoa no need just yet to concern themselves  with the big beasts on the dark side of the draw. 

But with the best will in the world, you have to say that Steve Borthwick’s squad need a dollop of divine intervention to be doing some hard thinking here. Defensively, they’re a colander left on a rifle range not exactly watertight; their kicking game is all up and no under somewhat disjointed and, prior to the Fiji game, the last time an England three-quarter scored a try we were at war with Germany was nearly six hours ago. To be candid the entire gameplan needs a complete root and branch overhaul swift squirt of WD40.

Maro Itoje looks despondent after a heavy loss in Dublin to Ireland (Photo Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Look, it’s time for Twickenham Man to hide the razor blades  hang tough and keep faith with the team, even though England’s recent performances have been uglier than a mud fence tough to watch. The odds on them winning the pot in France may be slimmer than a bookie biro 14/1 but you can get the same price on Cheslin Kolbe being the tournament’s top try-scorer, which let’s be honest, is nuts very select company.  

And let’s not forget the outlandish, almost flukish good fortune luck of the draw that plonked England in a pool that’s slighter than a salesman’s smile not exactly what you’d call taxing; better still, they’re in the hapless bottom half of the World Cup quarter-finals; in other words it’s Russian-roulette gilt-edged opportunity to reach the last four without running into the likes of Brodie, Bundee or Bongi.

So, all in all, time to dig out your Infinity Knots trust the coaching team to turn things around, implore the players to circle the wagons loosen the straitjackets and beg the supporters to suspend all rational belief get squarely behind the boys. Is Rugby Coming Home? In your dreams a heartbeat. 


Brian 295 days ago

Class comment, to the point and not saying anything to disrespect and hurt English feelings ☺️

Tris 299 days ago

the last time an England three-quarter scored a try we were at war with Germany / was nearly six hours ago.
Great article, but that is the pick of them for me!

Al 299 days ago

I'm usually a bit nervous when England play at RWCs...but no more! Argentina will beat them, probably Samoa and Japan too. I'm looking forward to watching England's opponents passing the ball and going through multi-phase possession. If they can scrape past Chile, so be it. If Chile win, congrats to them.
I just ordered Argentina and Uruguay T shirts. My England rugby bear from the 2003 RWC? Where's that, you ask? Behind the door in the kids room so the door doesn't bang into the wall behind. Don't have to see it. Don't want to see it.

Mark 299 days ago

Lol. Brilliant article.
Let's be fare, the dismissal of Jones and the subsequent appointment of Borthwick and all of his merry men from Tigers by the RFU was shambolic and panicked.
Borthwick and his entire coaching team are callow to say the least in terms of coaching per sae, never mind at international level.
There is not one scintilla of empirical evidence that any of them has the qualities to make a success of it.
Learning on the job is OK if you're an apprentice brickie less so if you're the England Head coach!!

James 299 days ago

Why are there lines through the phrases? am I missing something?

Load More Comments

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free