Speaking exclusively to BettingSites.co.uk, former England centre Jeremy Guscott has given his view on Ireland’s Grand Slam victory at the weekend and how England can try to bounce back from Six Nations defeat with looking ahead to the World Cup in September.
Guscott discusses Owen Farrell’s position in Steve Borthwick’s side, the lack of development of world class English players at this time and how England currently have a mountain to climb to face up against any of the top four sides in the near future.
There was a weight of expectation on Ireland – but it was game over after Freddie Steward’s red card
JG: “I think for me it was a case that Grand Slams are never easy to win. That’s why there’s so few of them and when you’re a nation that hasn’t won it at home before, you could sense the weight of expectation.
“As well as a grand slam there was also Johnny Sexton’s probably last home game, so there was a lot of a lot in the mix.
“Behind that was the pressure and you could see that in the way that Ireland played. Any opposition is always going to raise their game against the number one team in the world like we all used to do when we played New Zealand, South Africa and Australia back in the 90s and early noughties. If you don’t raise our game you are going to get absolutely walloped.
“A combination of that and Ireland’s nerves, resulted in quite a tense game. When there’s something on the line like the Grand Slam, they aren’t always the best game because of expectations because of everyone’s nerves.
“Once Steward was gone the game was gone for England. Game over.”
Freddie Steward red card could have gone either way
JG: “I guess it could have been a red or it could have been a yellow. I think if it was a yellow there wouldn’t have been too many disagreements.
“If Steward had gone for the ball their heads would have clashed. Did he come into contact with Keenan’s head? Yes, he did. Was it reckless? Arguably not. Was it a rugby incident? Yeah. Was it a red card? I don’t think it was cut and dry.”
England are lacking star players – Owen Farrell is a hangover from Eddie Jones
JG: “I think the English public just got to come to terms with the fact that we are not as good as we may think we are. And that’s proven all around. And quite simply, if you lined up the Irish team, you lined up the French team, who from the England team would get into either of those teams?
“I think that Borthwick shouldn’t be microscopically judged on what’s happened in the Six Nations.
“What England wanted was a bigger improvement from the Autumn. It was so disappointing in so many ways because it looked like they weren’t in the games. For large parts of the French game, they weren’t in it. Against Ireland, they came together a bit more.
“But we’re lacking those special players, we’re lacking stardust.
“I think also Borthwick’s decision right at the beginning to Owen Farrell captain was either going to have worked incredibly well or it was going to go horribly wrong.
“He’s a hangover from Eddie. There is a lot of Eddie in Farrell and that is what he probably saw when he became coach.
“I think the warrior that Farrell is, the great leader that he is, it’s a hangover, and without Farrell they would move on. I figured they would move on quicker without that. It’s a legacy from Eddie.”
Owen Farrell isn’t influential enough on the pitch to be in the team or be captain
JG: “I’m saying we ought to rethink that. Is it going forward and are England progressing with him?
“How much longer is Farrell going to play? Post World Cup the future is probably Marcus Smith and maybe George Ford.
“So many times, Owen gets the ball 30 metres away from the try line and his first instinct, it seems, is always to kick.
“It’s much better to see that one pass and then make the decision. Marcus’s instinct is to run. George Ford’s instinct is to scan and then make a decision to kick or run. Owen’s first decision seems to be to kick.
“His influence over the team is enormous. And if he is on a high, it works. But at the moment he just looks a little bit slower than he used to be, more reserved than he used to be, and he certainly kicks more than he used to.
“I think Borthwick’s got enough time between this last game and the next warm up game and the England camp to decide if Farrell is the right choice. Personally I can’t say no he is not because I’m not in camp so I don’t know the upside of Owen Farrell.
“But the playing side at the moment isn’t influential enough for him to be in the team and to be captain.”
England would have mountain to climb to beat top four team at this time
JG: “We couldn’t have expected to win this championship. We haven’t got the players to win it, we haven’t got the quality to win it.
“This issue is bigger than what we’ve just seen in the tournament. It all goes back to the international development path.
“Itoje, Jamie George, Farrell, Ford, and a number of others, all played in an era where England under-20s were very successful.
“And you’re seeing the same of the French under 20s, the stars of the successful French under 20s are the stars in their mid 20s who we’re seeing at the moment.
“So the big picture for England is the player pathway has to be better, the development has to be better.
“And right here right now, England are playing as well as they’re ranked, which is sixth or seventh in the world.
“England are fortunate that in the World Cup draw, they’re likely to play Australia or Wales in a quarter-final. No matter how badly England are playing, you’ve got a good chance of beating them and come a semi-final, they’re likely to play either of the the Big Four and there they exit because they really haven’t got enough time to improve that much to be able to beat that top four. It’s not impossible, but it is a big mountain to climb.”
The England set up is not producing enough world class players at the moment
JG: “Anyone at the RFU, and I don’t know these people, have got to up their game. Maybe they are already and there’s stuff in place that we don’t know about.
“But right here, right now, who’s the replacement for Kyle Sinckler? A 35 year old guy (Dan Cole).
“Who’s the replacement for Jamie George, who’s a replacement for Itoje, who’s a replacement for Manu Tuilagi?
“What’s the quality of their replacements? What’s the quality of those coming through? And at the moment, you’d say it’s substandard.
“Which is a reflection of Premier rugby and their players. It’s a reflection of the whole development pathway.
“It is not producing world class players at the moment.”
Having too many subs is diluting the game – it should be about fitness and skill
JG: “No. it switches me off a little bit. My big bug bear and it will continue until the day it happens and it may not happen, is that there’s too many replacements that come on. So the game is more about big players and defence generally. And I think it should be a game of fitness and skill.
“I just think it would be better for the game if you didn’t have eight subs coming on, particularly up front where you generally get six these days, it doesn’t make for anybody tiring.
“If I am CVC and I’m putting huge money into this game and I want it to reach out to more people, put more bums on seats, get more eyes watching TV, I’d lessen the subs.
“My wish won’t happen because players don’t want it and coaches don’t want it. But eventually I think it will come in.”
Top teams pick themselves when fit and England don’t currently have that
JG: “We’ve had them but they’ve just not been consistently performing. Whether it be that, or whether it be injuries because good teams pick themselves and at the moment you know England aren’t picking themselves.
“They’re not in the greatest place at the moment.
“The French team picks itself, the Irish team picks itself when everyone’s fit because of the way they play.”
England do not have enough ball carriers to compete
JG: “No, we haven’t. In short. Ollie Chessum was a big plus for us in the Championship but unfortunately he’s injured. His brother captains the under 20s and is apparently bigger and at least as good.
“So get him in the squad. I’m not fussed about his age – get him used to this level.”
Manu Tuilagi hasn’t been in form and Maro Itoje has disappeared from games
JG: “We put labels on players and people. The only label we should be worried about is how well this person’s playing. If he’s playing well, he picks himself. If he isn’t, which he hasn’t been, he’s left out. And Manu hasn’t been which is why he got left out.
“Ollie Lawrence came in and proved his place. We say we can’t wait for Manu to get back playing as well as he can; we can’t wait for Farrell to play his best rugby.
“And where has Maro Itoje been?
“I was sat next to a good friend watching the game at the Aviva Stadium. When Maro made his first ball carry, I didn’t know he was in the game? Maro used to get three turnovers a match, make 20 tackles, he was man of the match most of the time. That’s disappeared.
“It’s just a reflection of where England have been for the last three Six Nations championships.”
I’m sick of reading about Eddie Jones
JG: “Let’s go past Eddie! I’m sick of reading about Eddie Jones. The Eddie Jones era’s gone, hopefully, but the hangovers are there.
“Whilst England are playing poorly we’ll keep on referring to Eddie Jones.”
With no relegation, it gives a team a chance to develop players – but the games aren’t as meaningful
JG: “My mind changes, probably from month to month. I played for Bath. I live in Bath, I bleed blue, black and white, all the way through. So when I see them at the bottom of the table, I don’t want them to get relegated and I’m glad there’s no relegation.
“I think a closed shop is better for England. Because when there’s no threat of relegation you don’t have to bring in so many overseas players; you can really develop within.
“But it is against our culture. I like relegation and promotion. And I like that the season has meaningful games all the way to the end rather than dead rubbers and there’s nothing on the game if there’s no relegation at the end of the season. What’s the point in going to see him because nobody wins anything or nobody saves themselves?”
Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith just won’t work next to one another
JG: “I think the tradition of England and the position of most good sides in the world you have had the fly half, a straight hard running inside centre and a bit quicker outside centre.
“The Ford – Farrell axis clearly worked well for the first three years of Eddie Jones’s tenure. After that, not so well. It is English DNA to have that bruising inside centre. And that’s why we stick to it until you find something world class that might be different.”
Andy Farrell would likely have been a great success as England manager
JG: “Life’s about timing. The timing wasn’t right. I read somewhere that the defensive job might have been available, or they might have spoken to Andy Farrell a few years ago. But there were no guarantees; so whatever it was, something wasn’t right for him and he went to Ireland and he became a great success.
“It doesn’t mean he would automatically have been a great success with England but the likelihood is that with his pedigree, he would have been.
“You know what makes Farrell. He has this charisma, this aura, very much like his son does. But it works better as a coach.”
Steve Borthwick is the right man for the job
JG: “I think Steve Borthwick has what it takes as England manager. I think he has just got to be given time.”