English Sporting Failures Lie with Poor Preparation

This was written as a dissection of England’s lamentable performances in the 3 most recent World Cups in football, cricket and rugby…

This week the Times dedicated an exclusive dissection of England’s lamentable efforts in the recent Rugby World Cup; over six pages the broadsheet looked in detail at how England fell from 6 Nations winners to a rowdy rabble of rugby amateurs off on a 6 week jolly in New Zealand.

The damning reports rest on the anonymous contributions from the shamed members of the squad, honest and frank views of where it all went wrong – the drinking culture, the lack of professionalism and amateurism of the coaching staff to name just a few.

Rifts within the squad left the campaign doomed from the beginning whilst the playing staff ridiculed an incompetent back-room team; a recipe for disaster if ever there was one.

However much the England rugby players want to blame the coaches and management for the whole debacle surely they must realise they displayed a shocking lack of professionalism. World Cups are the pinnacle of any sport; they arrived in New Zealand as athletes and left as a disgraced bunch of lager louts, motivated by ‘cash and caps’.

A junior member of the squad reveals that a senior player remarked ‘there’s £35,000 just gone down the toilet’ in the immediate aftermath of England’s Quarter-Final humbling at the hands of the French, which is indicative not just of dubious commercial motivation but incompetent leadership.

This behaviour is even more shocking when compared to the dedication and desire of those in the Welsh camp, a young and unassuming squad which performed above itself to finish 4th, the complete antithesis of England’s shambolic mentality.

What the inquest really draws attention to is the astonishing failure of the last three major tournaments that English sport has been involved in – South Africa 2010, India and Sri Lanka 2011 and New Zealand 2011.

In each case the respective English sides went into these tournaments with overwhelming expectation but managed to produce woeful displays and ignominious early exits. On each occasion English sport has shot itself in the foot by getting the most basic things woefully wrong – particularly preparation and selection.

In 2010 the English football team entered the World Cup in South Africa highly fancied to progress far after a near perfect qualifying campaign; certainly those in the English press were keen to emphasise the genius of Fabio Capello and Wayne Rooney.

Yet unlike the holiday lifestyle that pervaded the rugby squad, the footballers were subjected to draconian rules that led Rooney to proclaim they were all ‘bored’ of playing snooker and darts in between matches. Heaven forbid that well-paid international footballers would be complaining of boredom during the biggest tournament in sport.

Disinterest and apathy seeped onto the pitch as England suffered their worst experience at a major tournament in some time, their lacklustre performances illustrated a side that was over-cooked and paralysed with the pressure of expectation.

The England cricket side entered the tournament on the sub-continent earlier this year on the back of a mentally and physically draining 3 month tour of Australia, which had included the memorable Ashes victory but also a harrowing annihilation in the one day series.

Embarrassing defeats to Ireland and Bangladesh in the group stage precipitated a 10-wicket humbling by co-hosts Sri Lanka. England found themselves chronically under-prepared for the gruelling conditions on the sub-continent and yet, like the football team, mentally and physically fatigued.

In the last two years English sport has consistently self-destructed during major world tournaments when the teams have looked well placed to make a positive impact.

Surely it cannot be merely coincidence? Do the media strangle the life out of players? Undeniably the media expectation cultivates a hybrid of pressure and responsibility which is ultimately untenable, but they seem like a scapegoat.

The ECB has already guaranteed that the next World Cup will not be preceded by a gruelling Ashes tour; it is refreshing to see the ECB making a logical decision to avoid the toils that have hampered the cricket team’s last three World Cup campaigns.

Much of what hinders English sport in major tournaments is of their own doing, which is what The Times has highlighted this week by leaking these damning reports. It is a worrying trend and an inherently English sporting trait.

Failure in the big tournaments has become synonymous with the English national psyche, yet the self-capitulation of the rugby team is on another scale, more akin with the archetypal disintegration of the Dutch football side.

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