After the abject failure of their 2015 World Cup campaign, it looks like the RFU are lining English rugby fans up for yet more disappointment in 2019.
The reason for this is twofold, first of all is the issue of the current review panel, whilst secondly is the issue of the experience of the existing playing pool. Fortunately there is still time to sort the mess out that is English rugby, but time is running out, and whilst the men at the top remain in place, there is little chance of seeing the necessary overhauls in the RFU.
Despite the obvious issues uncovered by England’s exit at the group stages of the Rugby World Cup, Ian Ritchie, the man in charge of selecting the head coach is chairing the review panel. Add into the mix several other members who were strongly in favour of the appointment of Stuart Lancaster and you can begin to see issues emerging before things have even started.
How can anyone expect to see an objective outcome from the review, when those involved in it were the individuals who appointed the coaches of both of England’s recent World Cup failures (let’s not forget the cock-up in 2011 as well).
If the RFU are serious about learning from their mistakes, then it is clear those at the top need a shake up. Ian Ritchie and Rob Andrew have both done a superb job of ensuring the RFU is one of the richest unions around, however how much longer can this continue when the team fail to perform out on the pitch.
If we’re to see any kind of real change in England’s fortunes in major tournaments then the approach has to be top down. The RFU need to invest in individuals who have overseen success on the pitch beforehand, and then trust them to select the right team to work under them, and coach the England team in the right way.
The other major issue is that there is a serious risk of England going into the 2019 World Cup with another group of players with limited international experience. The majority of England’s most experienced players in 2015 (and there weren’t many to begin with), look set to retire or be dropped after their recent showings.
This means either Lancaster or a new coach is going to be starting almost from square one again when it comes to building a squad to challenge. Many of the current players will need to remain in order to maintain a sense of continuity, but equally changes need to be made to bring truly world class players into the starting XV.
There is still time to do this, however if lessons aren’t learned from the past four years then it could be a long time before England get anywhere near a World Cup final again. Whoever is coaching the team in 2016 needs to select a core squad that he plans on sticking with barring any injuries or huge drop-offs in form.
Recently there has been far too much chopping and changing of combinations meaning players haven’t been able to build up an understanding with one another. The fact the midfield pairing went into the World Cup having not played together before is absolutely unforgivable and cannot happen again.
The issue however is that whilst there are several younger players who look to have a bright future for England, they are few and far between at the moment. This means that most players will have at most three and a half years to build up the necessary experience to truly challenge for the World Cup in 2019.
Contrast that to the All Blacks in 2015 who came into the tournament with most of their squad playing in their third successive tournament. Even the likes of Wales will be heading into 2019 with the bulk of their squad having played together in at least one, if not two prior World Cup’s. No matter what England do over the next four years they will not be able to replicate that experience.