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Short-term England need vision

SIX NATIONS 2009 - ENGLAND v FRANCE
Venue: Twickenham Date: Sunday, 15 March Kick-off: 1500 GMT
Coverage: 1430-1700, BBC One, BBC Red Button, Radio 5 Live, BBC HD and BBC Sport website. Post-match forum 1700-1730, BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website

By Simon Austin

England boss Martin Johnson

Martin Johnson's mantra of "winning is everything" could backfire badly if England are beaten by France at Twickenham on Sunday.

Before last month's reverse against Wales, Johnson insisted: "Our objective is always to win. When you get to big games, people don't actually care how you win."

While such short-termism might be tolerated in the wake of a battling defeat against the Grand Slam winners, it is unlikely to be accepted as easily if England - who have lost five of their seven games under Johnson - lose at home against an erratic French team.

We are asking a hell of a lot, for guys to change their mentality of the way we are going to play the game

England centre Riki Flutey
It's a marked contrast to the sense of excitement and adventure when Johnson named his first team as England manager for the match against Pacific Islanders last November.

But chastening defeats by South Africa, Australia and New Zealand quickly changed the mood.

Centre Riki Flutey, one of England's few bright sparks so far in the Six Nations, admits there was a change of emphasis at the turn of this year.

"The philosophy did change a little bit," he told BBC Sport, "but it was more to make it easier for people to understand their roles and responsibilities."

During the Six Nations, England's emphasis has seemed to be on slowing down opposition ball and defence. Hence the selection of Joe Worsley, who has barely missed a tackle but been virtually non-existent in attack, at open-side flanker.

SIX NATIONS TRIES SO FAR
Ireland For: 9 Against: 3
England For: 8 Against: 3
Wales For: 6 Against: 5
France For: 5 Against: 5
Scotland For: 4 Against: 5
Italy For: 1 Against: 12
The mindset can also be seen in the backline with the mercurial Danny Cipriani continuing to be ignored in favour of first Andy Goode and now Toby Flood, while the attacking threat of Mathew Tait has been restricted to cameo appearances.

England do have the joint stingiest defence in the tournament, having, along with Ireland, conceded only three tries.

But their attacking play, despite five largely gift-wrapped tries against Italy, seems to have suffered as a result of the change of emphasis.

The contrast with France could hardly be greater. Although coach Marc Lievremont has picked his most experienced line-up to date for the trip to Twickenham, his main objectives are to develop a dynamic style of play and find players who will be at their prime in the 2011 World Cup.

"I'm not going to say wins are imperative," he said on the eve of the Six Nations. "The progress of our squad and style of play are the important things."

Johnson's selection of Wasps veteran Simon Shaw - who will be 38 by the time the next World Cup comes around - was hardly made with 2011 in mind.

Yet, despite much of the evidence to the contrary, Flutey insists England are in the process of developing a dynamic, 15-man style of rugby.

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"We've got forwards who have their whole life played one-dimensional plays, where they stay in rucks, hit rucks and do pick and gos," he said.

"Now we are asking a hell of a lot, for guys to change their mentality of the way we are going to play the game.

"We need forwards who are going to be ball-carriers, who will know their role if they are first receiver because a back isn't there.

"The boys are enjoying stepping out of their comfort zones and learning new skills."

Key to this transformation will be attack coach Brian Smith. While Johnson patrols the touchline during training sessions at Bagshot, it is Smith, forwards coach John Wells and defence coach Mike Ford who actually lead the sessions.

Fanfare greeted the appointment of Smith, who transformed London Irish into one of the most potent attacking forces in the Premiership, last summer and he immediately talked about "running the opposition off their feet" when he got the job.

England attack coach Brian Smith chats to Martin Johnson
Brian Smith is hoping to get England's stuttering attack back on track
Although England are the second-highest try-scorers in the Six Nations - with five of their eight tries coming against Italy - there has been little to get fans out of their seats.

It makes you wonder whether Wells and Ford have actually become dominant voices in the set-up.

Not so, according to Flutey, who played under Smith at the Exiles before moving to Wasps in 2007.

"Brian is very important as the voice of attack, exactly the same as ever," he said.

"Because he's in the international environment, it doesn't mean he's changing the way he coaches. He moved Irish onto a different level and has just the same approach here."

London Irish lock Nick Kennedy, who was unlucky to lose his place to accommodate Shaw's recall, also insists England have an exciting long-term plan, despite the talk of focussing only on the next game.

"I do think we are getting better as a team, but it takes time," the 27-year-old told BBC Sport.

If you are not prepared to risk short-term failure, you will not get future success

Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio
"We've got new coaches in and are trying different things. It takes time to get everyone on the same page.

"Brian is a great attack coach, you saw that from the way we played at Irish, and slowly but surely it's coming into the way England play."

Despite this, Johnson's selections, public statements and his team's style of play have combined to suggest that the next match is the only thing that matters.

Which make these comments from his former England colleague Lawrence Dallaglio, speaking last month, seem particularly pertinent.

"There is this wonderful expression 'short-term pain for eventual gain'," Dallaglio said, recalling England's shock defeat by Wales at Wembley a decade earlier.

"If you are not prepared to risk short-term failure, you will not get future success."

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see also
Jeremy Guscott column
13 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Defiant Borthwick remains upbeat
12 Mar 09 |  English
England change three for France
11 Mar 09 |  English
Chabal to switch for England game
11 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union
Skipper Borthwick defies critics
10 Mar 09 |  English
Dallaglio urges England patience
26 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Return of England's talisman
07 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England's new dawn under Johnson
18 Apr 08 |  Rugby Union
Johnson excited by England role
18 Apr 08 |  English


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