The second of those sentences is certainly true. Cast an eye over the slow reawakening landscape of European rugby and ask yourself if you could fit Taqele Naiyarovoro, Will Skelton, two-thirds of Uini Antonio, and half of Nemani Nadolo in the same school canteen and still have room for the dinner lady. Fat chance, so to speak.
There are plenty of coaches from the teaching tradition – Brian Ashton springs most readily to mind – who would argue that the “big kid” brand of player management is self-defeating. When he was in charge of the England team, Ashton encouraged his charges to enjoy a glass of wine in a restaurant or a pint in the pub during training weeks, on condition that they didn’t abuse the privilege. Nor did they, by and large.
Yet when Martin Johnson took a similarly liberal approach at an early stage of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, all hell broke loose in the South Island and there would have been rivers of tears before bedtime had the principal protagonists actually made it to bed.
The recently-retired England captain Dylan Hartley, then the side’s second-string hooker and a slightly troublesome spirit, spoke just the other day about the “alcohol culture” in the squad – a culture that smelled rotten at the time and still stinks now.
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September 13, 2020