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Jeff Probyn calls for overhaul of England rugby team

Chris Aston is beaten to the ball by Clement Poitrenaud

Highlights - France 12-10 England

By Sam Sheringham

Ex-England prop Jeff Probyn has called for an overhaul of Martin Johnson's coaching set-up and for Steve Borthwick to be stripped of the captaincy.

In a withering assessment of England's Six Nations displays, Probyn demanded changes to bring the best out of a promising generation of young players.

"I don't think it's time for Johnson to go - I think it's time for his coaches to go," Probyn told BBC Sport.

"When Borthwick is captain his game goes down and the team goes down too."

Probyn, who won 37 England caps between 1988 and 1993, wants sweeping changes after a campaign in which Johnson's side won only two of five games and were widely derided for playing unimaginative rugby, before improving in the 12-10 defeat by France on Saturday.

Johnson now has 18 months to get things right before the World Cup in New Zealand.

We don't want a situation where we are just plucking someone out of the air like Johnson was and watching him learn on the hoof

Ex-England coach Dick Best

"England's performance was poor throughout the Six Nations," said Probyn.

"We lacked structure in the gameplans. We didn't seem to have much idea of where we were going.

"We relied too heavily on some tactics that were out of date and outmoded and our kicking game was poor."

Despite Johnson's consistent efforts to defend them, Probyn lays the blame for England's lacklustre displays firmly at the door of back-up coaches John Wells (forwards), Brian Smith (attack), Mike Ford (defence) and Graham Rowntree (scrum).

"There's nothing wrong with the players," he said. "They are playing week in week out with their clubs, playing a different style of rugby and an exciting style of rugby.

"It can only be the coaching they are receiving at international level.

"Johnson has got to start making the decisions a manager has to make and if that means some of your friends have got to go, they've got to go."

Probyn said he would like to see Northampton coaches Jim Mallinder and Dorian West brought in to work alongside Johnson.


The duo captured their fourth trophy in three seasons in charge of Saints with victory over Gloucester in the LV= Cup final on Sunday.

Former England coach Dick Best does not think the Rugby Football Union (RFU) will make any changes to the coaching set-up so close to a World Cup, but wants Johnson's long-term successor to be identified and brought up through the ranks.

Best thinks it was a mistake to appoint Johnson in 2008 with no coaching experience.

England's World Cup-winning captain has just eight wins from his 19 Tests in charge.

"We've got to be grooming the next person to take over and we don't seem to be doing that," Best told BBC Sport.

"We don't want a situation where we are just plucking someone out of the air like Johnson was and watching him learn on the hoof."

England's next challenge is a summer tour of Australia and New Zealand, featuring two Tests against the Wallabies.

Steve Borthwick
Borthwick has been Johnson's England captain since 2008

That will be followed by a tricky autumn series against Australia, Samoa, world champions South Africa and New Zealand.

As well as the coaching shake up, Probyn is calling for a change of captain, with flanker Lewis Moody having pointed the way forward to a more dynamic style of leadership against the French after taking the armband from the injured Borthwick.

"The unfortunate thing for Borthwick is that he's never played well as a captain.

"The tempo was better under Moody, there was none of this finger-wagging at referees and calling for yellow and red cards. That was a feature of Borthwick's captaincy, which is not the sort of thing you expect an England captain to do.

"I'd probably go for Moody in the short term until one of the other players holds up their hands."

The RFU will hold a review of the national team set-up in July, after Francis Baron steps down as chief executive.

Best, who was a coach on the 1993 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, says Baron's departure could open the door for the return of Sir Clive Woodward, England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach.

"Whoever comes in needs to be someone who has more of a hands-on role with the rugby," he said. "Somebody like Clive coming in as the top dog would be all right in my book."

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see also
England can be 30% better - Moody
21 Mar 10 |  English
France 12-10 England
20 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Six Nations as it happened
20 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
France v England match stats
31 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
France v England photos
20 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
England drop Wilkinson for Flood
17 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Coaches insist England are united
17 Nov 09 |  English
Johnson named as England supremo
16 Apr 08 |  English

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