So France face the All Blacks in the final of the 2011 RWC having been mauled by them weeks earlier. A team with a coach set to tear them apart in the press has mirrored the unfancied England in the last World Cup. But will they win? NO. Having lost so badly in the group games and playing negative set piece rugby they will need to be on top of their game to compete with NZ. They were lucky to beat Wales and had it not been for the 8,9,10 contingent getting the team into the right areas of the pitch, Lievremont would be well rested by now back in Paris without a job.
Whilst these 2 nations decide the inevitable next Saturday I would like to give my opinion on the 2 questions I am asked on a daily basis
1. Was the tackle really a red card?
2. Should Martin Johnson continue as head coach?
In my opinion the Referee made a poor decision in the circumstances. Other similar tackles in the RWC have had penalties or yellow cards at most. I have never seen a red card for a spear tackle-maybe I don’t watch enough rugby. There really is a fine line between a good tackle with great body position and a spear tackle driving one’s head to the ground after initial contact. I did not see any malicious intent-his body position was very good and he drove through the attacker. He actually let go after the contact.
Allan was correct under the letter of the law but wrong in the spirit of the match. If every referee played the game to the letter of the law the ball would not be in play much with a penalty every set piece, ruck, maul and tackle. In other words our game is open to interpretation by the referee all the time. I believe his interpretation of the tackle was wrong-as Francois Piennar said at the time-why not ask the touch judge and ask was it malicious and deserve a red card??????
Whilst all the hype is about Wales, what about England’s poor world cup and should Johnno go??? I can’t say enough positive things about Johnno as a player.
But as a manager he has trusted his players and fellow coaches too much. The result I fear will be a rod for his own back. I liked the fact that he has picked young players and developed them but the team’s inability to hold the ball and have confidence to attack space like the Welsh is a concern. Smith is the attacking coach. I have no idea what the team were trying to do this whole tournament. England’s problem is they don’t seem happy with the ball in their hands-almost clueless when they are in space. Yes we are as strong and as fast as the other nations but well below par on catching and passing. Defence has been heroic under Mike Ford but how can big players have seriously bad mis-tackles in key moments against France. I also don’t think we looked fit enough-big and strong YES……but nothing like the Welsh or Kiwis in the aerobic stakes. Furthermore, I believe Johnno is very loyal to those around him. Should he decide to stay, the powers that be will want to know what changes he wants to create success. He will not pander to anyone which I fear will create an impasse-the coming weeks will be interesting.
Finally the players who brought down the squad should take a good look at themselves. We all know how hard it is to shake off the bad media but what about the majority of the team who did all they could, who have been tee-total for months, who have been sick from exhaustion on the training pitch-only now to be remembered as being part of the shambolic 2011 squad. Not fair! But that’s what you get with a team sport-you are only as strong as your weakest link. Unlike Wales we have too many weak links.
Like Johnno, I believe the team’s best rugby is ahead of them but I really do hope that the players and Johnno alike learn from this tournament to reclaim the coveted prize of RWC champions from the soon to be crowned Kiwi’s.