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Rugby Union: Stop kidding us Brian..England have only one plan; iRB RUGBY WORLD CUP 2007 FRANCE RUGBY WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN: SIX DAYS TO GO.


SO now we know. England have no Plan B, no workable alternative to forward muscle and Jonny Wilkinson's boot.

Never mind that a week today they will kick-off their World Cup defence with a glut of tries against the United States, come judgement hour it will be Jonny or bust.

I had convinced myself that coach Brian Ashton was just experimenting with the team and that by the time we got to the tournament England would have developed an ability to play two types of game.

I had done so because Brian stated that was his aim and because history shows his teams always play rugby and score tries. That is his whole coaching philosophy.

But all we saw in Marseille, in England's final warm-up game, was evidence he has fallen into the safety-comes-first world of forwards' coach John Wells.

That worries me, because 10-man rugby for England won't do. Our 10 men aren't strong enough to beat the best. We need to have something extra. Without that we'll be coming home after the quarter-finals.

It shouldn't take a massive leap to get to where we need to be. We have the forward platform to put ourselves in the right areas of the field with the ball in our hands. Converting that pressure into tries should not be beyond us.

But it seems it is, and I can only think Brian has come to the conclusion that as this group can't play the way he wants them to, it's better to play the percentages.

It strikes me England made a big mistake by sending the players home for 10 days after Marseille. I found that remarkable as they look a side that haven't spent any time together, despite the best part of two months in camp.

You don't build the understanding required to unlock the best defences by working on your own in a gym. You do it by spending as much time as possible together on the training field, putting your hands on the ball and running around together.

A team lacking the capacity to do that is going to struggle in the knockout stages of a World Cup.

Brian's way is to challenge players to 'get out there and play what you see'. And over time players who haven't got the ability to do that eventually gain that ability.

It's something that comes with practice: running out, seeing space, attacking space, choosing the right options. Some can do it naturally, most have to work at it.

In this squad probably only Jonny and Mike Catt among the backs see space right away. There's a lot of great athletes and runners, but not a great deal of skill.

So what have we got? We have a pack which should not be bettered by any team. And we have an okay defence. I say okay, because for it to be a really good one you need to have a good attack.

You have to be able to put pressure on the opposition, to wear them down so they haven't as much energy when they're attacking you.

Unfortunately we're just not doing that.

Given where England are, much will depend on Jonny Wilkinson becoming an extrovert No.10, a player who controls the game from start to finish, regardless of who is playing inside or outside him.

If he can do that, if he can get the back-line firing, then maybe I will have to eat my words. Nothing would give me more pleasure, but I have no great confidence in that happening.


WORLD CUP Pool A winner: South Africa 2-5, England 13-5, Samoa 31-1, USA 299-1, Tonga 349-1.

Full details online at

Interview: ALEX SPINK


NOT HANDY: Ashton looks to be struggling and will need Wilkinson (inset) to take control
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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