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Jeremy Guscott column

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England & Lions centre


Martin Johnson isn't going to say this, so I will - the current crop of England players is just not very good.

Great teams have half a dozen world-class players and we don't even have one. Perhaps that is something we, as England supporters, are going to have to accept.

It's why I don't envy Johnson in the slightest, because he just doesn't have stand-out players to bring in and turn things round.

Having said that, changes must be made to the team to face New Zealand, because we were dominated in every area of the game by South Africa.

I would start by replacing Danny Cipriani with Toby Flood at fly-half. I am in no doubt that Cipriani has the potential to become the best number 10 in the world, but potential and realisation are a world apart.

Steve Borthwick
You pick your best 15 before choosing your captain, so Steve Borthwick shouldn't be there

You can't have back-to-back performances like Danny has just had and remain in the side, it gives out the wrong message to the other players.

Cipriani's big weakness is his defence. If you watch him in the tackle area and at rucks and mauls, there is no aggression and he doesn't seem to want to be there.

It's all very well making a couple of breaks a game, but a number 10 simply cannot shy away from defensive duties, which is what he seems to be doing.

The best way to use him against New Zealand might be as an impact substitute, coming off the bench with 20 minutes to go.

And I just don't think skipper Steve Borthwick warrants a place in the team either. I've always thought you pick your best 15 before selecting your captain and, if you do that, Borthwick wouldn't be there.

I know Steve well. He is a good guy and a fine captain who did a brilliant job when he was at Bath, but he just isn't the best player in his position, it's as simple as that.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Simon Austin
I would go for Nick Kennedy and Simon Shaw in the second row. When I look at Kennedy, I see parallels with the great All Black Ian Jones.

He's not the biggest, but he is an athlete who wins his line-out and is great around the field. If he can just add a little bit of beef, he will be an unbelievable player. And we all know what you get with Shaw - power, presence and experience.

Elsewhere, the time has come and gone for Phil Vickery. I would bring Matt Stevens in in his place, with Andrew Sheridan returning on the other side of the scrum.

There don't need to be any other changes, but the forwards need a rocket so far up them that they never come back down, because they are just not producing good enough ball.

This is where I have great sympathy for Cipriani and the rest of the backs.

You go through eras when there aren't many brilliant players around and this, unfortunately, is one for England

Jeremy Guscott
If you're not getting quick ball, life is very difficult in the backs, believe me. There are two reasons why the English forwards haven't been producing quick ball - they have been physically dominated and have not been streetwise.

Tom Rees was one of the few England players to get plaudits at the weekend but, for me, he wasn't a good enough link between forwards and backs.

He shouldn't be taking the ball into contact, because he's not the biggest guy. His job is to be the link man in attack and to slow the ball down in defence.

He should look closely at George Smith and Richie McCaw, because they are classic exponents of an open-side's arts.

At scrum-half, Danny Care hasn't been providing quick enough ball either. Care has all the attributes you would want in a number nine and I would just sit him down and clarify his role - get the ball, get it out and don't run with it unless there's a gap.

Another area where England can improve massively is fitness. To compete with the best you have to have unbelievable fitness levels.

Look at Australia and New Zealand, all their conditioning is geared towards international rugby. Ours has been dominated by the clubs.

When Sir Clive Woodward was there, Dave Reddin kept a very close eye on the England players and made sure their conditioning was always excellent. That seems to have dropped off now.

Are we big enough, strong enough and fit enough? Judging by the last two performances you would have to say no.

Johnson also needs to decide if his coaches are good enough. Woodward was very proud of the fact he had a coaching set-up that he called the best in the world. If Johnno can't say the same, he should make changes.

But then I come back to the same, salient point - the calibre of players that Reddin, Phil Larder and the rest were working with was much better than the present crop.

You go through eras when there aren't many brilliant players around and this, unfortunately, is one for England.

Jeremy Guscott was speaking to BBC Sport's Simon Austin.

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see also
England 6-42 South Africa
22 Nov 08 |  English
Johnson says defeat was 'brutal'
22 Nov 08 |  English
Honeymoon over for Johnson
23 Nov 08 |  English
Jeremy Guscott column
17 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England drop to fifth in rankings
17 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England 14-28 Australia
15 Nov 08 |  English
Scotland 10-14 South Africa
15 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Wales 34-13 Canada
14 Nov 08 |  Welsh
Ireland 3-22 New Zealand
15 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union


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