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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006, 16:18 GMT
Where now for England?

By James Standley
BBC Sport at Twickenham

England coach Andy Robinson pictured at Twickenham on Saturday
Where will Robinson find the inspiration to revive England?
Anyone listening to England coach Andy Robinson on Saturday night would have thought the world champions had enjoyed a successful Six Nations.

"There's only been one disappointing performance, last week against France," insisted Robinson.

"We were very, very good against Scotland, we just didn't finish them off. (Against Ireland) we played well again but didn't finish them off, and we beat Italy and Wales. The team has moved forward."

So, were England pipped for the title by a powerful French side buoyed by home advantage when the two giants of European rugby met this season?

Well, no. For the second year in a row, England finished fourth in the championship with a record of two wins and three defeats, equalling their worst return since 1987.

Since the 2003 World Cup triumph, they have lost eight of their 15 matches in the tournament, hardly indicative of a glorious reign.

So, with the next World Cup less than 18 months away, where do the world champions go from here?

THE COACHING TEAM

England's problems on the pitch are matched by major concerns off it.

Sir Clive Woodward, who guided England to World Cup glory in 2003, says Robinson is an "outstanding coach".

But since stepping into Woodward's shoes, Robinson has had to combine the role of coach and manager.

He is failing to juggle the twin roles successfully, with Austin Healey, among others, calling for him to go.

England assistant coach Joe Lydon makes a point in training
Some critics suggest assistant coach Joe Lydon's "time is up"
Rugby Football Union chairman Martyn Thomas told BBC Sport last week that Robinson would lead England into the 2007 World Cup.

But he admitted they were considering appointing a manager to work alongside him, someone more comfortable with the bigger picture and with better communication skills.

Newcastle boss Rob Andrew, ex-Australia coach Eddie Jones and former Ireland boss Warren Gatland have all been mentioned as possible candidates for the role.

Robinson's back-room team also needs freshening up.

Former rugby league men Joe Lydon (attack) and Phil Larder (defence) have both come in for heavy criticism, with the likes of Bath boss Brian Ashton and Wasps coach Shaun Edwards, another league convert, named as potential replacements.

PLAYING PERSONNEL

Ben Cohen was the only member of England's World Cup final team to make the starting XV against Ireland, and the current crop of players do not look up to the task of retaining the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Mathew Tait out-strips the Samoa defence in Melbourne
Tait ran in tries for fun in the Commonwealth Games sevens
There is exciting young talent around and new blood must surely be introduced during the summer tour to Australia.

The player being name-checked the most is 20-year-old Newcastle centre Mathew Tait, prematurely selected as an 18-year-old last season but the star of this week's Commonwealth Games sevens in Melbourne.

Ex-England centre Jeremy Guscott says Tait "has the lot", while New Zealand Sevens coach Gordon Tietjens believes he has "the X-factor".

Fellow sevens players Magnus Lund and Tom Varndell have also been tipped for great things, while the more established Olly Barkley, Chris Jones, Tom Palmer and Shaun Perry are all pushing for places.

Only England's front row seems to have the required strength in depth, although Robinson claims he now has "20-25 players" who are up to the task.

STYLE OF PLAY

When Robinson took over he talked about broadening horizons, but if anything England's game-plan is more conservative than ever.

England will never be the most expansive side in the world, for cultural reasons if nothing else, but the one-dimensional power game has been brutally exposed.

Charlie Hodgson, England fly-half
Hodgson needs a more creative back line to make the most of his vision
Robinson talked of "suffocating" France, but it was the world champions left gasping for air as they slumped to a record-equalling 31-6 defeat by a mediocre French side.

England are "solid to the point of rigid" according to former Wales captain Eddie Butler, while ex-England lock Paul Ackford believes Robinson's "essentially conservative, low-risk approach is a major drawback".

England have no trouble securing possession, but against the biggest sides in the world they struggle to cross the try-line, with the backs frequently looking impotent.

Fly-half Charlie Hodgson is a talented play-maker; he needs the right weapons outside him to profit from his ammunition of inviting passes and acute kicking.

OFF-FIELD ISSUES

The on-going club versus country row continues to hinder England's development.

There are calls for England to be given more time with the players - defence coach Larder complained he only had 40 minutes a week with the team during the Six Nations.

There are also suggestions that players are jaded when they meet up with England because of club commitments.

RFU performance director Chris Spice said last week: "I'm not surprised by the results. Tiredness was always going to catch up with us towards the end of the tournament."

But Newcastle boss Rob Andrew dismissed such claims as "rubbish", Josh Lewsey said fatigue was never a factor for him while Jamie Noon said it was "hard to tell" if the amount of games they played was hindering England.

FUTURE PROSPECTS?

There are other issues that England have to address, such as whether using Lawrence Dallaglio as an 'impact replacement' is the best way to bolster Martin Corry's captaincy.

Injured fly-half Jonny Wilkinson intently watches a game featuring his club side Newcastle Falcons
Dogged by injury, will World Cup hero Wilkinson return to the fold?
Dallaglio has described himself as "tiptoeing" around to avoid treading on Corry's toes, but with the captain showing up well in the past two games, Dallaglio looks set to remain on the sidelines.

The injury problems affecting the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Olly Barkley and rugby league capture Andy Farrell have also hindered Robinson's search for an effective midfield combination.

What is clear, however, is that despite Robinson's bullish words, England are dramatically underperforming.

Playing standards in the 2006 Six Nations were generally poor, and yet England finished third-from-bottom for the second year in a row.

There is still time to turn things round, but changes will have to be made to the coaching staff, team and game-plan if England are to stand any chance of competing at the top table in France next year.


SEE ALSO
England blame luck of the Irish
19 Mar 06 |  Six Nations
England 24-28 Ireland
19 Mar 06 |  Six Nations
Robinson angry over Ireland tries
18 Mar 06 |  Six Nations
France 31-6 England
12 Mar 06 |  Six Nations
Scotland 18-12 England
25 Feb 06 |  Six Nations
Italy 16-31 England
11 Feb 06 |  Six Nations
England 47-13 Wales
04 Feb 06 |  Six Nations


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