Everything about the current England set up is completely professional in all but one absolutely vital area.
There’s no doubting that the preparation that has gone into the 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign is second to none. The coaching team have gone to extreme lengths to prepare their side for every eventuality, whilst the players have put themselves through hell in a bid to become bigger, stronger and faster athletes by utilising the most advanced techniques available to them.
Off the field, the commercial operations are similarly slick. The World Cup is set to produce record revenues for the RFU, whilst Twickenham continues to sell out and major sponsors flock to the team. There have also been a whole host of technological innovations that have given fans unparalleled access to players, and turned Twickenham into a digital media hub.
Despite all these huge strides into professionalism, there is still one key ingredient missing – a win at all costs mentality. It seems that the current regime are determined to maintain their amateur ideals whilst trying to compete in an increasingly professional world.
The focus on team culture seems to have come at the cost of winning for the current England side who are beginning to fall behind their peers on the world stage. The likes of France, Australia and Wales have all adapted their approach and are now seeing the rewards whilst England are left lagging behind.
Have no doubt that virtually any other nation with serious World Cup ambitions would have selected flanker Steffon Armitage no matter what the knock-on impact may have been. England’s two key Pool A opponents Wales and Australia have adapted their own selection policies to allow them to include the best possible players from around the world. This hasn’t meant entirely throwing away their homegrown rules, but instead they have moved with the times.
Elsewhere you only have to look at France to see how disciplinary issues cannot stand between a team and their bid for World Cup glory. Yoann Huget’s stamp on an oppositions head was somehow overlooked meaning he was available for selection when the final 31-man squad was announced. In contrast both Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi have fallen foul of England’s zero tolerance policy even though it would have no major bearing on the World Cup campaign.
The excuse that Hartley would only be available for England’s second group game holds little weight when you look at the facts. Yes he would have missed the warm-up games and the first match against Fiji, but given he has been England’s first choice hooker over the last few years, it shouldn’t have been too much of an issue seeing him slot back into the side.
There’s no doubting that the current English stance is admirable in setting an example to young supporters, however if the side are to seriously challenge on the world stage then they perhaps need to start thinking about whether integrity or winning is more important to them.