Jhere are long-established soap operas with less storylines than international rugby training right now. Since the return of Dirty Den from EastEnders to Walford in 2003, there has not been a primetime return to match the return of Warren Gatland as Wales head coach. And then we have the rolling “Will they, won’t they?” saga involving Eddie Jones and the Rugby Football Union, the most contentious Australian relationship in those parts since Kylie first laid eyes on Jason.
How ironic too that on the same day the RFU’s anonymous panel of experts met to discuss whether to simply remain good friends with their former mate Eddie, the Welsh Rugby Union opted to return to the future by rehiring their former southern hemisphere guv ‘ni for one last job. Can you revolutionize the prospects of a national team so close to a World Cup? One way or another, we’re about to find out.
The strong return of “Gatman” in place of Wayne Pivac, dropped, also puts additional pressure on the Twickenham goalkeepers. One of the most appealing storylines doing the rounds – and there have been some wacky ones – was the idea of Gatland assisting England in a temporary ‘godfather’ role, with Steve Borthwick on the shotgun ahead of the game. to assume the top job after the next World Cup. Now that cunning wheeze is just another screwed-up sheet of paper among many littering the floor of the office of Bill Sweeney, the RFU’s chief executive.
There is also the small question of the determination with which Wales reacted to their disappointing calendar year. The cash-strapped syndicate will have had to dig deep to repay Pivac and reactivate Gatland, but once it was decided that was the way to go, the deed was quickly done. Back at Twickenham, from an outside perspective, there was more than a hint of paralysis by analysis, both on and off the pitch.
It’s also wondered if anyone in the RFU had time to peek at TV screens to study the last day of the Rawalpindi test. If so, they would have seen precisely what is suddenly possible when a team, to borrow from Psalm 121, is encouraged to look up into the hills. It’s not just that England’s cricketers won a thrilling test against all odds. It was the historic way they did it and their willingness to risk it all to make it happen.
Think back to the droopy body language of the same players before Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes took over. Now come back to Twickenham during and immediately after last month’s South African defeat and wonder if a touch of ‘Bazball’ might be just what England’s rugby doctor ordered. Different sports, of course, but a positive attitude can make a huge difference.
The spirit also returns to the day in Brisbane in July when we asked Jones what he thought of the so-called ‘Baz Ball’ phenomenon. “That can happen sometimes with a new coach,” he replied, clearly unimpressed with the unspoken involvement. Few people love their cricket more than Jones, but, in his seventh year with England, he wasn’t about to throw away all his complex preparation for the World Cup for the sake of it. . When England won this series Wallaby 1-0, it appeared they had a point.
But that was then. Five months in the whirlwind of modern sport is a relative lifespan. And since he and Gatland understand better than anyone, a new voice (even one who’s been back in New Zealand for a while) can sometimes be more uplifting than a familiar one. The trick is precisely how long this initial improvement – Gatland won a Six Nations Grand Slam in their first attempt with Wales in 2008 – can be sustained.
The other crucial word in all of this is freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom from tight tactical straitjackets, freedom from fear of failure. Imagine if English rugby ventured into something similar to cricketers and freed its players, like grateful doves, to fly in less regimented formations. They might lose a few games here and there, but they would also win a lot of hearts and minds.
Stokes’ team certainly look like they’ve been liberated. Wales rugby players – and this does not reflect the ousted Pivac – will also feel relieved as they kick off the Six Nations, simply because man management, tactical cunning and selection are all notorious strengths. from Gatineau. He will restore their self-confidence and draw round pegs in round holes, three quarters of the way.
Whether the RFU sticks or twists, this is also the recipe for reviving the English patient. But if it’s the latter, you can only hope someone inside Twickenham has factored in the ultimate Hammer House horror: Jones coaching against England in the FIFA World Cup. next year and emerging victorious. The last time he worked as an 11th-hour consultant at a World Cup, in 2007, he helped South Africa win the trophy. Imagine something similar in 2023: Eddie and Rassie Erasmus together in Electric Dreams, the ultimate in oval soap operas. English rugby has to be very careful what it wishes for.