Predictability is a kind of death, is it not, in sport? If your opposition knows what you’re up to; if you ‘telegraph’ things. Practice and conditioning and the set plays or grooved moves of the training pitch are rendered meaningless if they are expressed poorly, robotically. Fans detest and are actually depressed I think, by what they feel to be insultingly obvious routines transferred moronically into the real-deal arena; we hope for some liberation from our sporting heroes rather than mere regurgitation.

Following a clump of disappointments for the English I propose to heroically subvert the prevalence, the dominance of dull order and drudgery by throwing a few wild passes into the mix. Not for me (on this occasion) the considered appreciation hitherto expected of the mature journalist. I’m bullet-pointing you towards my gut. And – even though Capello’s arrogant, undisciplined, unprofessional rabble have again infuriated us – let’s start with the rugby.

  • England went out of the Rugby World Cup at the Quarter-Final stage, in humiliating fashion.
  • Clearly we can blame both the players and the management team; they both failed. Failed to contribute enough.
  • Martin Johnson must surely be sacked. For an age ‘his side’ have been dull, crude, uninspiring, rudderless. It’s his job to facilitate the expression of their talents.
  • Instead he has aimed cynically low – at a kind of “winning rugby” that has won neither admirers nor a particularly high percentage of big games.
  • Against France his players were almost uniformly shockingly poor. They appeared strained rather than energised, wooden rather than dynamic. Being that uncomfortable is a clear failure of preparation, of culture. Johnson takes the blame for that.
  • The central place that Mike Tindall has played in Johnson’s squad is a depressing symbol of their failings. Tindall is surely the most perfectly one-dimensional centre in international rugby. He is allegedly a solid defender but he rarely carries the ball with pace, grace or menace. He rarely passes the ball sharply or with imagination. Contrast his alleged presence and influence with that of Tuilagi, who moves powerfully, sinuously, alarmingly, beautifully even. How obvious does a profound dearth of talent need to be before it is pulled?
  • England have real rugby footballers in different areas. Foden, Ashton, Tuilagi most significantly and perhaps Lawes from amongst the pack – most of whom are legitimate international players but not more than that. Their failure has been largely a thing born of ugliness beyond pragmatism; unambition masquerading as tactical minimalism. This is a central cause for the contempt with which they have understandably been held in the hearts of rugbyfolk worldover. They have largely chosen to deny the beauty and lifeblood of the game by opting for monotones. It is therefore appropriate that the manner of their defeat by an awakening but hardly inspired French side was chastening to the point of embarrassment. People feel that it is just.
  • Aside from this thin tactical meanness now exposed, surely Johnson’s inability to truly motivate his players was also reflected through a lack of leadership on the pitch. Lewis Moody was crippled but was more of a loose cannon by nature. Tindall… ’nuff said. There was a core of very senior players who despite their undoubted honesty lacked belief. If that was because they understood the shallowness of their plans, I look forward to hearing their liberating dissent.

Next up… we sling mud at the footballers.  Or… we revel in the brilliance of the Welsh.

I’m not joking…

The mother-in-law – sorry, my mother-in-law, if that’s less Les Dawson – has been almost worryingly poorly lately. She needs to do less, without question. (I think) she certainly needs to do less of the rather bitter and energy-sapping judging of things that is absolutely, on one level essential to her. And – because I understand most of the difficulties I am heading for with this foolish and dangerous gambit in a post about World Cup Rugby– I want to try and explain what I mean by that.

I am not trying to deny Edna any of her human rights; or in any way undermine the authenticity of her near-biblical rages against the inevitable offences of modern life. (I am clear that I disagree with the overwhelming number of her positions on politics/race/ethics/sport but I am mostly concerned that her piping hot expressions will render her ill or iller than is presently, almost worryingly the case). Last night, though looking a tad peeky at our daughter’s 9th birthday tea, Edna managed an arch-typical outburst on the subject of the England rugby team. She thinks they should be sent home.

Now it may be the case that there have been ‘issues’ with behaviour which have not reflected well on Martin Johnson’s boys – or, by implication, on the Suited Lamp-post himself. You may or may not be relieved to know that I have no intention to revisit in detail the various alleged misdemeanours and either discard them as minor or calibrate their seriousness. Edna, however, has made it her business to roll deeply in the fox-pooh that is Tindallgate etc etc. using The Daily Mail as her trusty guide. Or should that be bloodhound?

She now passionately believes that the one-dimensional England centre and sometime skipper is up there with Ashley Cole in the reprehensibility stakes. (Funnily enough, I’m pretty much with her on this one but where we differ is in the weight of punishment for the man – I would settle for less than the hanging in the White Tower that Edna holds out for.) I am more interested in the general question arising from Edna’s belligerent investo-journalism; namely Is England RUFC becoming (as bad as) England FC? Now that’s a substantial as well as a flippant question.

Rugby people are largely and understandably scathing about the coiffured ponces of the Premier League, writhing about, as they do, in swiss chocolate-style decadence, with no sense of what they owe to the game, to the fans. Rugby players, they argue, are manifestly better than this. Now it sounds like Tindall may have been a drunken arse possibly prepared to be unfaithful to his new wife. It sounds like 3 other players may have been disgracefully rude or worse to a female member of staff at their hotel. It sounds like drink has been an unhelpful lubricant in the various situations slavvered over by the press. This perhaps is disturbing in the sense that it may in two ways separate players from fans

  1. Because the players may no longer be able / be allowed to mingle with their fellows
  2. Because those offending players have been unworthy / have been behaving more like… footballers?

Many of us have been present when the What Goes On Tour Stays On Tour banner has been quietly unfurled over an appalling or sometimes hilarious incident. Often the mischief shrouded in this way is insignificant, or at least the machinery of society remains sustained, for better or worse, in sickness and in health despite it. But not always; sometimes it’s serious and it has consequences; I remember a 9 year match being squished after a team-mate successfully Tindalled a young lady in Holland. That’s not funny.

Not that I want to get too drawn into the morality tale end of the market here, but clearly high profile young men (like an international Rugby Team on tour – like England) who are likely to be horny and fit and even on occasion attractive either have to be good, careful, or abstemious. They are pretty likely to get lucky with young members of the opposite (or the same) sex; but they are not likely to get lucky with the press. It is therefore incumbent upon them to contemplate their responsibilities or their exit strategy. What would be a shame is if in a perfectly reasonable hitching of tour perameters players went missing from social intercourse entirely. (Rugby players I mean).

Because therein surely lies one of the keys to that which is most precious – and I use the word in all innocence – in the game. In the knowledge that I repeat myself the general level of honest respect between and for players, fans and the game of rugby itself really is different; it is better than that brittle, ring-fenced arrangement surrounding high-ranking footballers. There is almost no link between Adebayor or Van de Vaart and the fans other than the one-way adoration expended for 90 minutes on a Saturday. Ungentlemanly conduct is massively present in top level soccer. In contrast the commonalities between Chris Ashton and Toby Flood and their respective home fans and the general conduct of rugby ‘stars’ is of a substantially fairer tone. They are still in reach; they still respect the game, the ref. Which is why it is disconcerting that folks like Edna now perceive no meaningful difference. She thinks that like politicians… they’re all the same.