The Six Nations is set to kick off in an hour’s time with Ireland taking on Italy. It is of course the five o’clock match that is of most interest to the nation as England start their campaign with a tough test against Wales at Twickenham. All eyes will be on Martin Johnson as the game approaches and if rumours are to be believed then the large browed coach must win three out of five matches in this year’s tournament to keep his position as England’s head coach.
This target places even greater importance on this opening game. With two harder games to follow against the bookies two favourites, last year’s Grand Slam winners Ireland and a difficult trip to across the channel to play the French. England will enter these matches as underdogs which means a loss to Wales this evening would leave England and Johnson with an uphill battle to reach his supposed target.
The bottom line is that Martin Johnson has given the nation no reason to believe that he is capable of leading our country’s rugby team to success in this year’s Six Nations or in the looming World Cup next year in New Zealand. He may well have been one of the greatest captains to wear the Red Rose but unfortunately this does not guarantee his ability to make the transition into being a great coach.
How much responsibility lies with the coach is hard to say. The truth is England’s current crop of elite players is not in the same league as years gone by. You look through the team expected to start today and how many world class players are there? Johnny is the stand out performer but beyond him the team lacks the star quality and so the expectations placed on Johnson must be more realistic. To constantly use the team of the 2003 World Cup winners as a comparison or a bench mark would be to set the bar too high.
Nevertheless, having won only 6 of his 14 test, Martin Johnson’s position must be under review. How long do you let him ‘build’ a squad or develop a team ethos? The problem is that he has made no real progress since his appointment in 2008 and offered few signs of promise for the future. His refusal to make wholesale changes may ensure continuity but has ultimately resulted in players keeping their places in the side even despite poor series of performances – the likes of Ugo Monye and captain Borthwick spring to mind.
Johnson took the role of head coach with no previous coaching experience and it appears that now England are paying the price of their romantic decision to give him the position. Johnson was a great player, and will probably go on to make a great coach, but at the moment he just isn’t. His tactics don’t seem to be understood by the players, his squad selections are overly conservative and he is unwilling to introduce some more radical changes to try and lift England from their steady demise.
I hope that the rumours of an ultimatum being placed on Johnson for this year’s Six Nations are true. Do we allow him until after next year’s world cup? Surely two years with a losing record and no change is enough to condemn Johnson to the fate of going to New Zealand only as a spectator. If he is unable to win three of England’s five games then I believe that top down changes must be implemented. With an easy victory surely coming against the Italians and a game against Scotland, they really ought to win. If he cannot muster a victory against the French, Irish or injury plagued Welsh then that must be all the evidence that we need that Johnson is not the man for the job?!
Thoughts, comments or predictions please... except on grammar, I was far too hung-over to care!