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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
England close to crisis point
By Bryn Palmer

Captain Pat Sanderson (right) and Iain Balshw reflect on defeat in Melbourne
Captain Pat Sanderson (right) led the side in a losing cause

Andy Robinson may still believe England can retain the World Cup when they begin the defence of their title next September.

But judging by the response on the Scrum V messageboards, red rose supporters are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the claims coming from their head coach.

The statistics do not make comfortable reading for the worst-performing world champions in history, or Robinson.

England have lost 15 of their 26 Tests since winning the 2003 World Cup, 10 out of 18 under Robinson, and their last five in a row, their worst sequence since 1984.

They have won only three of 13 away Tests since the Sydney triumph (two in Italy, one in Scotland), and conceded 200 points in five Tests in Australia and New Zealand.

So how can Robinson, with 14 Tests left before the World Cup, hope to turn the tide back in England's favour?


Robinson has now used 55 players in his two-season reign, including 10 different centres, but still appears no nearer to knowing his best side.

Having left a whole team of senior players at home, he had the opportunity to give others a decent shot at staking a long-term claim in Australia.

Mathew Tait in glum mood after being replaced against Australia in Melbourne
Tait was left to reflect on a harsh reintroduction to Test rugby
Olly Barkley and Mathew Tait are the most likely options at inside and outside centre, but Barkley was picked at fly-half and then dropped, and Tait was shunted to the wing.

Open-side flanker Magnus Lund was picked for his debut at blind-side, then demoted to the bench, then overlooked when Lewis Moody had to pull out in favour of Michael Lipman.

And after picking a team to play a running game in the Sydney rain, Robinson opted for a more pragmatic selection under a closed roof in Melbourne. Where's the logic?

Your view: "AR does not have a clue what his best side is - and with that comes a complete fear of the unknown. He doesn't know either the type of rugby he wants to play - or the people to do it." droppedoutat22


England still appear caught between using the physical power and set-piece efficiency of their pack, and trying to play a wider, more expansive game.

It was ironic that Catt was brought back to assist the latter, only for attack coach Brian Ashton to lament the long passes aimed in Tom Varndell's direction in Melbourne, where Lote Tuqiri was already lining up his prey.

Catt was succinct in his own assessment. "It's dead simple," he said. "We got the basics wrong and got hammered."

The new coaching team of Ashton, John Wells and Mike Ford have had only a few weeks to get their ideas across, and it will take time to assimilate them.

But where were the angles of running, basic passing skills and support play expected of Test players? In the Wallabies backline, that's where.

Your view: "Our off-the-ball running is absolutely mindless at times - we can only cut a good line if it's off first phase when everyone has been told exactly where to run." apechild11


England at least created several try-scoring chances in the first Test, even if they went begging, but there was little sign of advancement in Melbourne despite two late tries.

Chris Jones takes on the Wallabies defence in Melbourne
Jones took his chance well
Certain individuals showed up well. Ben Kay looked more like his old self, Chris Jones showed he now has the game to become a top lock, and hooker George Chuter impressed.

Scrum-half Peter Richards also demonstrated sufficient tenacity to suggest he offers a viable alternative to Harry Ellis or Shaun Perry in a position which remains up for grabs.

But as Catt noted: "What you hope for is a lot more than three or four players coming through, and I think that is the disappointing thing."

England's next Test is against the All Blacks on 5 November, closely followed by two against World Cup group opponents South Africa. Hardly a time for more experimentation.

Your view: "I think it's got to a point where we might see the odd protest start at Twickenham if things turn pear-shaped in the autumn. I can see the odd fan holding up banners with 'Robinson out'." mightyreturns


Robinson believes English rugby's "patchwork fixture list" - too many games, competing club and country demands - "is not affording players the opportunity to become world-class".

"There needs to be a real shake-up of how we produce players and our system for the development of English rugby for the long term," he said.

The man responsible for that will be the new elite rugby director, who the RFU hopes will be in place by September.

"He must be given a free hand to develop a vision where we have a proper structure for developing players," Robinson added.

But with only a year to come up with answers before the World Cup, a quick fix is not on the cards.

Your view: "Why can't he have the decency to stop insulting the fans and tell it like it is - we're in it deep and he's to blame." dami1 193


Some observers felt Robinson was hung out to dry when the RFU opted to change his coaching team, and were surprised he did not resign when his forwards remit was taken away.

But he has repeatedly said he wants to take England through to the 2007 World Cup, and it appears unlikely the RFU will want further upheaval this close to the tournament.

Robinson knew he was likely to have to sacrifice short-term results for long-term gain by resting players this summer.

"I have cut my nose off to spite my face on this trip," he said. "It would have been very easy to have said, 'Sod it, we are bringing those players', but I don't think it was right for them."

He may be proved right in the coming 12 months, but England fans do not appear convinced.

Your view: "I think AR should have gone after the last Six Nations, and the RFU in supporting him have put us back 18 months." djbleakman

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