Sport SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Finish this nonsense! No more caps for the bench
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Last week I suggested England should use the next two Six Nations games to reset and rejuvenate. This year’s Championship has gone — it’s time to relaunch.
Now that sounds all well and good, but how do you reset a team that is in an almighty hole? The priority is selection — picking on form and not shying away from dropping big names.
I will take that as a given, but how do you become cutting-edge leaders again and make a statement of intent?
Top of my list following selection would be cutting out the obsession with finishers. Stop using the term and, apart from injuries, do not make any replacements.
My NRL top eight for 2021
Less than two weeks to go and the footy will be back. After a very unique and challenging 2020 season, fans and players alike will hope that this season can play out as planned. Like any season, we will see the stocks of some start to rise, as others fall in their place. A few teams could count themselves very lucky to play finals footy last year, while others had much improved ends to the season. Who will it be at the pointy end? And who will live to wait another season for their shot at glory? Here is who I think will make the cut in 2021. 1.
Pick your strongest team and stick with them for 80 minutes. Caps are only awarded if you are a starter, not if you are on the bench. If you do come off the bench due to an injury, that is your chance to prove you should be in the team — but no caps! Elevate the importance of being one of the selected XV. Spell out that players are on the replacements’ bench because they are not good enough to make the starting XV.
I can understand the logic of finishers, based on creating a culture where everyone has a part to play, but it also can set the wrong mindset within the squad.
This might sound radical, even negligent, as the perceived modern wisdom is that you must use replacements and that a front-rower is spent after 50 minutes and five or six scrums — but do we really believe that? I don’t.
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A herd mentality has taken over regarding replacements.
In the Wales versus England game, for example, Ellis Genge and Charlie Ewels came on and immediately gave away vital penalties. Ben Youngs, enjoying his best game in a long while, was subbed for no apparent reason. His replacement, Dan Robson, struggled horribly to get into the game and also gave away a penalty. The finishers finished England off.
If you do not have the fitness to play at the tempo required for 80 minutes then go home. Not relying on replacements would massively boost the fitness of the entire squad. Let this be a key point of difference for England, something they are doing that others aren’t. There would be no hiding place for anybody. The starting team starts and the starting team finishes, unless there are injuries.
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Look at it this way: there is a match-day squad of 23, 15 starters and eight replacements. So from early in the week, when the team is decided, the eight replacements know they will probably be playing between 35 and 10 minutes as they come off the bench — while the eight they replace know they will play 45 to 70 minutes. That does not create a winning mindset.
No doubt the logic of swapping players at certain points is led by data, which is all well and good.
But data does not factor in attitude, mental resilience, adrenaline and, to be frank, sheer bloody-mindedness — which every top international has in bucketloads.
The stark fact is that only seven of the squad will be preparing mentally and physically for the certainty of 80 minutes of rugby. That’s crazy and, as a coach, I would find that near impossible —except that, as a coach, I would have bucked the trend!
I see no upside to it all and we saw the downside in the World Cup final as all pre-match plans went up in smoke because Kyle Sinckler went off early. Dan Cole was not conditioned to play for 75 minutes and England were in trouble from that moment.
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I am struggling to think of an occasion when the England bench has made a huge difference.
People talk about the strength of the England bench but just think about that statement for a moment. Great, our strength is on the bench! I want my best players on the pitch, for 80 minutes.
The best players in the world expect to play 80 minutes and are livid if they are taken off. It used to amaze me when Dylan Hartley came off regular as clockwork after 50 minutes. Dylan was the best England captain since Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio.
He was an influential figure and I could never understand why England kept taking him off for those vital last 30 minutes or so when most games are won and lost. A player who cannot last 80 minutes cannot be captain and I’m sure Hartley could have gone the distance in every Test as he is up there with the top players when it comes to bloody-mindedness.
A new-look England should make supreme, 80-minute fitness a virtue. Spell it out to all players — you are gone from the squad if you can’t give 80 minutes of full-on rugby. Make that starting place everything and see a real hunger kick in.
Every week in Premier League football you see players angry when their number is up. It’s brilliant, I love it. But how often do you see that in English rugby? Almost never. They dutifully leave the field as part of a pre-ordained process, safe in the knowledge they have bagged another cap and will be back next week for their 50-minute shift.
Let’s make everybody in world rugby sit up on Saturday.
Eddie Jones (left) should pick what he considers to be his Gun XV and make it quite clear nobody is coming off unless they are injured. I believe all concerned would be shocked — pleasantly — by the outcome.
Fullback Malins gets first England start against France .
Fullback Malins gets first England start against France in the Six Nations on Saturday as coach Eddie Jones again has resisted any temptation to make widespread changes. Malins, on loan at Bristol from Saracens, swaps places with Elliot Daly in the team named on Thursday. It is the same situation in the pack where Luke Cowan-Dickie returns as hooker and Charlie Ewels as lock, with Jamie George and Jonny Hill moving to the replacements. Winger Anthony Watson will win his 50th cap in the clash at Twickenham, where England have won their last seven games against the French.