Focusing only on winning your next game is the guiding principle to being a successful sports team.
If you win enough of them, you will find yourself in the World Cup final. The only time that becomes obscured is when warm-up games allow you to think about the bigger picture.
Even then, winning is important. England aren’t warming up for France right now. In fact, they’re currently stone cold. Considering everything that has happened over the past three weeks, it’s vital they beat Fiji on Saturday to spark some life into the team.
England should rip up their World Cup squad and start again. World Rugby rules permit a coach to take out players and bring new ones in up until August 28. Steve Borthwick should do exactly that.
It would be harsh to tell players who were expecting to go that they are no longer travelling to France. But as a head coach, you must make tough calls. And let’s be fair, the players haven’t set the world alight in the two games with Wales and defeat by Ireland. The message should be clear: ‘Sorry, but you’ve had your chance.’
Steve Borthwick (above) should hit the reset button ahead of England’s World Cup campaign
His World Cup plans are in disarray and England could do with a refresh ahead of next month
I wrote before England’s loss to Ireland that they do not need to go full Bazball and emulate the men’s cricket side’s radical attacking selection and style of play.
But following the performance in Dublin, I’ve realised that is exactly what they should do if they are to ambush this World Cup. England must throw caution to the wind as they’re in a real corner now.
Sir Clive Woodward’s England side to face Fiji
World Cups are not about development. They are about winning. Nothing else matters.
England’s performances have been way off the standard required in the warm-up games. Coupled with that, there have been red cards and suspensions for Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola.
Farrell will miss England’s opening two World Cup pool games against Argentina and Japan, and Vunipola the first of those. Those two matches have become even bigger than they were previously.
Make no mistake, England could lose both. They played into Argentina’s hands last autumn and were well beaten. They are on course to do the same again.
Sometimes, you have to tear up your plans. Borthwick has to react to ensure England are in the best possible place to beat Argentina and Japan.
If England bring in a host of new players for this weekend and it doesn’t work, then they haven’t lost anything. They can still revert to the current crop and double down. Given his ban, Vunipola should not go to the World Cup.
He is the only out-and-out No 8 in the squad and England can’t face Argentina with a non-specialist there. Ben Earl and Lewis Ludlam could do a job, but when a better No 8 is available you have to play him. I’d take out Vunipola and bring in Zach Mercer.
Borthwick will be without Billy Vunipola against Argentina, as the No 8 is serving a suspension
Vunipola is not the player of four years ago. Mercer would bring some much-needed pace to the team. Vunipola can rejoin the squad if there are injuries in France, which is almost a given.
I’d keep Farrell involved but for Fiji I’d bring in close to a whole new back line and tell them they’re playing for a World Cup spot.
As a coach you risk looking confused, but the flip side of that is fresh players could bring an entirely new dynamic. I’d have Alex Mitchell and Marcus Smith as my nine and 10.
To get the most out of Smith, he needs a back line equal to his attacking talents and a licence to play. With this in mind, I would consider playing Freddie Steward at inside centre.
Steward is a great defensive full back but England need a running threat there which is why I would play Anthony Watson. For too long England’s midfield thinking has been dominated by Manu Tuilagi.
We need to get creative. Steward is strong defensively and he would do well in midfield. New Zealand switched Jordie Barrett from 15 to 12 through necessity rather than by design and it has worked a treat. Against Fiji, I’d play Steward and Henry Slade at centre.
It was a big call to leave out Slade in the first place but the paucity of the side’s back line displays in the last three weeks has shown England badly miss his footballing ability.
England captain Owen Farrell (pictured) is also banned, with George Ford in line to replace him
No 8 Zach Mercer would bring some much-needed pace to the England pack at the World Cup
I’d have Henry Arundell and possibly Max Malins on the wings but I’d seriously consider either Adam Radwan or Cadan Murley instead of Malins from outside the current squad. I like the look of Theo Dan at hooker with Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes all in my pack.
This will be the last World Cup for Lawes and possibly Itoje too. I want to see some real fireworks from our best two locks. My back row is Tom Curry and Earl on the flanks alongside Mercer.
England have nothing to lose now. Given the current direction of travel, it is conceivable that Borthwick’s team might not even qualify from their pool.
That would be unthinkable for English rugby and must be avoided at all costs.
My England side to face Fiji on Saturday: Anthony Watson; Adam Radwan, Henry Slade, Freddie Steward, Henry Arundell; Marcus Smith, Alex Mitchell; Ellis Genge, Theo Dan, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes (capt), Tom Curry, Ben Earl, Zach Mercer