Ian Ritchie’s peculiar summing up of Stuart Lancaster’s previous attempts at Six Nations as ‘unacceptable’ sits uncomfortably with me. Many of those who watched the denouement of this year’s campaign would agree that although Wales and England both came very close, Ireland deserved the trophy. I’m not sure what is unacceptable about that.
Joe Schmidt’s men played a savvy campaign. They undid both France and England and brushed aside Scotland and Italy. Yes, they came unstuck against Wales but overall, and crucially when the question was asked on the final day, they got the job done.
Ritchie’s missive sounds like a leaked internal memo. One that should have been shared by the internal organs at England HQ, not the general public. We have all been part of organisations striving to be the best, looking to outperform the competition, and with that comes a language to stir inner belief and a private arrogance to steel ourselves for battle. These are not messages we would want shared with anyone.
The word ‘unacceptable’ belongs in that context. And this is the issue. It is very much about the language used in the forum it is aired. The wrong word in the wrong place, can cause issues. To come out in public and describe England not winning Six Nations Championships as unacceptable makes it sound as though he, and effectively England, cannot accept losing. And at the very heart of sport, is the ability to do that. Yes, be unhappy, angry, even livid about it; want to change the outcome with every sinew of your body but do not ‘not’ accept it. That sounds like you’re not accepting that it happened. And England did lose the Championship. And it is important for them to remember that.
The problem I used to have with England was arrogance. They once said that they didn’t want to play a part in Northern Hemisphere’s best international rugby competition. They wanted to go and play Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They felt the Six Nations was beneath them. Like the efforts of other teams in the competition were beneath them. That’ll irk.
That feeling dissipated, slowly. It perhaps helped that during that time England’s dominance waned. And if truth be known, even though I’ll have my WRU Supporters license potentially revoked for saying this, I now kind of like England under Lancaster. They have a certain honesty and graft, a charisma and charm for which you can actually feel affection. I liked the way they stood in that tunnel at the Millennium Stadium. Robshaw unflinching whilst Brown snapped and barked. I admired the way they broke apart the Welsh in that game. When Jonathan Joseph glides, you have to smile. I loved the way they played against France. Like the game was never up. With an eternal hope that made you want to follow them. And I like Lancaster’s candour. He’s not one for ego, holding himself out there with mind games and management mumbo jumbo. He’s about the team and learning, humility and accepting the truth. This message of ‘unacceptability’ sounds arrogant. And I don’t want England to be that again.
England have a really good chance at the World Cup in the Autumn. But, at the moment, it’s as good chance as Wales and Ireland. All three have a fighting chance. Sure South Africa and the All Blacks are perhaps the favourites but let’s not bring logic and reason in to this, after all, where were they last Saturday?
But, and this is most important Mr Ritchie, England have a chance because of what happened at the weekend. Because of playing against teams like Wales and Ireland. Because they weren’t the best during the Six Nations. That is something you are going to have to accept.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.