Steve Borthwick does not show his emotion physically, but I know the England head coach, I played with him – and he feels and cares just as deeply as anyone else. But if you cannot animate your feelings, then you absolutely must vocalise them.
England’s approach so far has appeared very controlled, very strategic. It is time for that to change, because this is the toughest game of Pool D — and it is first.
In the minutes before kick-off, when England are about to leave the changing rooms, there is still a place in rugby for a rousing speech. Rugby’s very technical and tactical, but you still have to be at the right emotional pitch to be able to win a World Cup match.
You must find the right emotional touch points within the players, that will connect the tissues together to produce a collective level of performance that can win this match.
If you don’t hit all the metrics that filter into a good performance, you will not win. But what England have not managed to connect is the mental and emotional side.
In the end, maybe the best way to vocalise what the players and coaches are feeling is to beat Argentina. What we now need is a performance that speaks volumes for everything that Borthwick and the players are feeling. England’s players and coaches have appeared somewhat disconnected at points across their World Cup build-up.
That has led some to draw comparisons with our situation in 2007, when we hit back from losing our first match 36-0 against South Africa to reach the final. I do not subscribe greatly to these comparisons — not least because this group of players are yet to play together at a World Cup.
We had won in 2003, knew exactly how to do that and were battling to get ourselves back on track. We beat Australia 12-10 in the quarter-finals, a result that kick-started our campaign.
That win was built on a world-class performance from Andrew Sheridan at prop, with captain Phil Vickery on the other side of the scrum also stellar. Andy Gomarsall put in a pretty epic performance himself at scrum-half.
Some of England’s players are making their World Cup debuts this weekend, so there are plenty of differences. For us in 2007 though, issues between coaches and players have long been characterised as a squad revolt against boss Brian Ashton. Actually, we did start off with a fragmented coaching and senior player group.
England’s approach so far has appeared very controlled, very strategic... it is time for that to change
And when you do not have a clear plan of what’s going on, then people align themselves with those who will move things on individually for them. What happened in the build-up to the Australia game was that the senior player group brought themselves back into line with the full coaching staff.
There is a sense of fragmentation now, which alone is similar, but that’s understandable for England. Owen Farrell is banned for this match, and all the spotlight has been on him for the wrong reasons.
Then you have senior players in different directions. But now it’s about this senior player group falling back into line, getting back behind each other and their coach. They have the ability and the talent, they just have not necessarily had all their noses pointing in the right direction.
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