So England have exited the Euros in ignominy (again), the team have been branded as over-paid prima-donnas (again) and humiliation has led to a search for a new head coach (again). Does it not just leave you a little bit bored of it all?
Fear not, however, as two other English sports have been trying their best to relent your summer of European-based despair (sporting or political), with a little help from two Aussie blokes…
Eddie Jones: The saviour of English Rugby
Just 8 months previous, the England Rugby Team were in what appeared to be a deeper hole to that of the football team. Exiting their home World Cup at the group stage, having lost to Wales and Australia, shattered what was meant to be four years of improvement and endeavour, and cost Stuart Lancaster his job.
Eddie Jones, the affable yet unyielding Australian who led his home nation to the 2003 World Cup Final, has transformed the Test side, in a turn-around that is nothing short of remarkable.
Nine wins out of nine since the start of his reign has led England to a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003, and a first series win in Australia since 1971; their 3-0 victory was their first ever white-wash over the Wallabies in an away series.
What is more impressive, however, is that he has done this while using the same resources that were by and large at Lancaster’s disposal. Of the 15 players who started the First Test against Australia in June, all but one, Maro Itoje, had played under Lancaster at some stage, while nine of those 15 were involved against Australia in November.
Small tactical changes, with a greater focus on fusing trademark English physicality with the ‘quick-ball’ game advocated by the Southern heavyweights, has been fused with a change in attitude: no matter what, no matter how, win.
“Eddie Jones is a strict disciplinarian, who does not tolerate second-best or second-rate.”
Chris Robshaw, a man symbolic of the ill-fated Lancaster years, was moved from open-side to blind-side flanker, and has been given a new lease of life in Test Rugby; along with James Haskell, his open-side partner, they were a revelation Down Under.
In bringing Owen Farrell into the centre, playing alongside Ford at fly-half, Farrell’s unerring kicking ability and Ford’s phenomenal game management can be used in tandem; the benefits of both playing was shown in that First Test, where Ford’s introduction after twenty minutes helped England overturn at 10-0 deficit.
Eddie Jones is a strict disciplinarian, who does not tolerate second-best or second-rate. His transformation of English Rugby is already so complete that a team of no-hopers eight months ago already have world champions New Zealand in their sights. A tall order, but he has not failed yet.
Trevor Bayliss: English cricket’s own messiah
England’s Test win over Sri Lanka may not have been as impressive as the series win over Australia for our rugby boys, but the transformation from the team who lost 5-0 against Australia was shown to be well on the way to completion.
The run to the World Twenty20 Final earlier this year, which was only lost in the final over against a West Indies team spearheaded by Chris Gayle, showed the growth in English cricket across all formats.
England’s win over Sri Lanka in the Fourth ODI, granting them a 2-0 lead in the ODI series going into the final match on 2nd July, was explosive. 300, once a total England routinely fell short of, is now more the minimum expectation.
Like Eddie Jones, Bayliss has brought an authoritarianism and dynamism to the national sides, without changing too many of the personnel available to Peter Moores, the previous incumbent. Bringing the best out of Alastair Cook in the test arena, and Joe Root in just about every single form of the game, has been the basis of England’s improved batting displays.
“They have the freedom to attack with bat or ball, knowing whichever comes second can win a match from a position of weakness.”
While James Anderson and Stuart Broad were world-class prior to his appointment, coaxing Steven Finn back to his intimidating best and allowing Mark Wood and Reece Topley their entrance onto the national stage has shown his eye for coaching.
The ultimate dynamic of the English sides is the biggest difference; they expect to win, whatever the format, whatever the opponent. They have the freedom to attack with bat or ball, knowing whichever comes second can win a match from a position of weakness. Bayliss, like Jones, has built a team of winners.
What can football learn from these two sports?
We must address the question of how relevant rugby and cricket are to the English football team. It has been pointed out many a time that the football team are paid more, have more player power and are more aversive to authority than either sport.
In my opinion, that means nothing.
If you are a true winner, money means nothing. Raheem Sterling can take his diamond-studded sink and flaunt it over Snapchat, because quite frankly it epitomises just why he has had an arguably poor time since leaving Liverpool: all flash and no substance.
He would not get into my England team, and if he feels that he is successful just because he has nice cars and a nice home, he cannot call himself a winner.
A winner leaves everything on the field, be it blood, sweat and tears. Ask the James Haskell who tore Australia apart, and the James Anderson who tore Sri Lanka apart. They hate losing, and no amount of money could make up for not winning.
The English football team, much like the rugby and cricket teams, have the players to be a winning side. Forgetting this summer, we cannot deny that Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane, Dele Alli et al. are talented enough to win.
What is required is the discipline, and winning mentality that Jones and Bayliss have instilled in their respective sides. If a player refuses to give 100% in training or a match, he should not play. If he is happy with anything less than victory, he should not wear an England shirt.
Roy Hodgson’s downfall can ultimately be ascribed to being prepared to acknowledge his side’s qualities, even in defeat, to the extent that he seemed to accept it. English fans do not want this. I have been one for long enough now to know that the majority would rather the stark truth: we let ourselves and you down.
Hodgson’s tactical know-how was, of course, an issue as well. Harry Kane was taking corners and free-kicks. I take better corners than him. He is a striker, I thought they were there to convert the crosses?
“England’s players seemed almost resigned to losing to Iceland; only the rather chaotic decision to play four strikers in the second half against Wales gave us a win to saviour”
Saying Hodgson didn’t have a set plan is true, but that wasn’t my biggest issue. Jones and Bayliss are as tactically astute as they come, but even they cannot account for all situations. What they do, while having a base plan, however, is install the confidence in their teams that, no matter what, they can get the job done.
Hodgson did not do that, and it cost him his job and us the chance to see England get to the quarter-finals, which should have been a minimum. England’s players seemed almost resigned to losing to Iceland; only the rather chaotic decision to play four strikers in the second half against Wales gave us a win to saviour, and I was shocked they actually managed it.
England need a man who will make them believe that they can do it, and a never-say-die attitude that should be required to pull the shirt on. Any player who does not show that attitude should be discarded, regardless of how good they are.
That fear of failure, of losing, of being known as part of an England team that lost, should be sufficient. Add into that the immortality that comes with winning, and you shouldn’t be leaving that pitch with any blood, sweat or tears left.
Words by Connor Higgs
Videos courtesy of youtube.com.