With a nation behind them and odds looking favourable on England making it to the final, how did they not even make it out of their group? We investigate how England crashed and burned in their own backyard.
One reason could be the infamous ‘group of death’. It seems, looking at the quarterfinalists that if England managed to survive their group, a semi final position was likely with South Africa,who of course lost to a lower tier team in the form of Japan and yet still managed to top their group. Was it too much to ask to play both Wales and Australia so early in the competition? This is no excuse for a team hoping to win the World Cup. No team has lost a group stage game and gone on to lift the coveted trophy. Why then, did England lose two games?
Was it poor player selection? Coach Stuart Lancaster’s unenviable task of picking the team was more idealistic than realistic. One only has to look at whom he selected and rejected from the team to see this.
One of the biggest names in rugby leading up to 2015 RWC was Manu Tuilagi, and yet he was cast aside. While his actions were appalling, it does seem that Lancaster judged him more harshly than a court of law did. This may have some further implications. Tuilagi’s omittance from the England setup is likely to push him towards France, where he can earn more money, however he will no longer be eligible for England selection in the future, thus weakening the team in the long-term.
Hartley was left out of the side due to disciplinary reasons, namely his accumulative fifty-four week ban for various acts of misconduct, most recently his head-butt on Jamie George, who went on to take his place. Lancaster seemed to be trying to win a popularity contest rather than a World Cup. Dropping one of the best Hookers in the world, and England’s first choice, for their third was a bizarre decision and warranted much shock from the rugby community.
Jesus, Hartley dropped from England World Cup squad!! Huge call from Lancaster
— Mark Cueto (@Mark_Cueto) May 29, 2015
Additionally, the selection of Burgess was strange. While none can deny that the 6’4”, eighteen stone former league player, has the attributes of a great union player, he was definitely not ready for this World Cup, having only made the transition. One can only hope he is not put off by this experience and keeps up his union aspirations, as he will be a massive prospect for the 2019 World Cup.
Stuart Lancaster. Shambles. Can only be down to one man. #BlameBurgess
— talkSPORTDrive (@talkSPORTDrive) October 6, 2015
Above all else is Lancaster’s inability to pick players who don’t play domestic rugby. There are two players in particular; Steffon Armitage and Nick Abendanon whom were left out of the side despite being the respective 2014 and 2015 winners of the European Player of the Year (whilst playing in France). The RFU’s rule states that unless under special circumstances, anyone playing outside of England cannot play for England. What circumstances are more special than a home World Cup? Imagine if Portugal were to drop Ronaldo because he plays for Real Madrid, in Spain. Australia had a similar rule but made exceptions. Their 33-13 win over us would indicate that this was a good decision.
If England’s players are developing so well in France, maybe we are not doing enough to ensure that players in England are sufficiently developed. One only has to look at Nick Easter – while he had an exceptional tournament, he is 37 years old and people are still talking about him playing in the next world cup. If by then, England don’t have someone who can take his place, surely something is wrong.
Having won 6 of the last world cups, one has to wonder why the Southern Hemisphere so strong. It seems that the most exceptional difference is the Super 15, a competition far superior to anything that we have in Europe. Teams are consistently playing exciting international quality games, which really enable players to prepare both mentally and physically for extra demanding games. This means that they are more likely to be confident with international fixtures.
Stuart Lancaster has since stepped down from his role as Head Coach, with Australian Eddie Jones being appointed in his place. Jones says his players could face the “angel or the devil” when he begins his reign as England head coach. In his first news conference, it was claimed he was called the ‘devil’ for how hard he worked former team Japan. Jones said: “Every side is different. You can be a devil one day and an angel the next day. We don’t know what I’m going to be.” Following his four-year appointment as England’s first foreign coach, Jones said there was “extreme talent” in the squad despite the team’s worst performance at a World Cup. He added that he wanted his team to make Twickenham “buzz” again by tapping into a “bulldog spirit” to take on the world’s best sides. Whether or not England will indeed regain this “bulldog spirit” under Jones remains to be seen, with the Six Nations now just months away.