Ironically, injury list may benefit England
IT IS often said in sport that being lucky is one of the elusive arts of being a manager or coach or selector, as if good fortune can be forced through sheer will.
At present, Martin Johnson doesn’t appear to be very lucky at all, which is ominous. The England manager is probably hiding behind the sofa at this moment with his TV and phone off, praying that the casualty list doesn’t rise before he welcomes his battered players to Pennyhill Park today.
So many members of the Elite squad and the Saxons squad are unavailable it is difficult to keep an accurate count, but the latest confirmed figure is 23 wounded out of 64 listed. Some will be back soon, but possibly not soon enough for Johnson’s liking.
Much has been made of the absence of the entire firstchoice front row for the autumn Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. But as an even more vivid illustration of the talent temporarily lost to England, check out this back line: Olly Morgan; Topsy Ojo, Mike Tindall, Riki Flutey, Delon Armitage; Toby Flood or Danny Cipriani, Harry Ellis (with Jordan Turner-Hall and Sam Vesty in reserve).
Two of that group would expect to start against the Wallabies if fit, while another three or four would be in strong contention.
So Johnson is forced to approach the forthcoming matches at Twickenham with one arm tied behind his back.
Surely that makes him unlucky?
Perhaps not. For a start, the former World Cup-winning captain will never fall back on the safety net of easy excuses. He will trot out a Leicester line in philosophy – “It is what it is” – and set about working with what remains at his disposal.
But more pertinently, the injuries present Johnson with an opportunity that he wouldn’t allow himself in the normal scheme of things.
As a pragmatist, he would always put the here-and-now of results ahead of development – of personnel or style – which is fair enough given how often visiting teams have stormed the ramparts at Twickenham in recent years and made off with the silver.
Conservative by nature, he would always instinctively take the tried-and-trusted option.
However, while home wins over southern-hemisphere opposition are needed to generate momentum and confidence, more depth of Test-class talent is also essential with one eye on the next World Cup.
Johnson is not a man given to experimentation for experimentation’s sake, but now necessity will demand that he tries out new combinations, thus helping his team’s cause long-term.
Last season, when similar circumstances forced his hand, he summoned Armitage and the London Irish fullback took to Test rugby with startling assurance.
Now, Johnson has an opportunity to pull another rabbit from his hat by unleashing this year’s Armitage.
Maybe he is lucky after all. – Daily Mail