Wednesday, 19 November 2014

RuckedOver's XV of England Players Who Probably (If We're Being Honest) Shouldn't Have Been England Players

It’s been a difficult couple of months for England, whether you’re a fan, player or coach.  Five losses on the bounce for the first time since those dark Andy Robinson days (although these defeats have come exclusively against the top two sides in the world), questions over selection and the quality of coaching, and the lack of form of several key players has all led to the rather negative aura pervading the state of English side at the moment.  But it could be worse.

You see, all this criticism of various players – some of it over the top – started me thinking (which is always dangerous):  who have been the most questionable selections for the England jersey?  Or, if that’s not specific enough for you – who would fill the spots of the XV Of England Players Who (If We’re Being Honest) Probably Shouldn't Have Been England Players?

Of course, I need to make a couple of caveats.  Firstly, I’m only selecting players post-2000, mainly for memory purposes but also because you otherwise end up with some pretty obscure names from the infamous Tour from Hell in 1998...such as Rob Fidler, for example (bonus points to those who can name his club and position).  Secondly, I have to of course acknowledge that all of the below are roughly 1000 times the player I am or ever could be and – no matter what – they have an England cap (or several) which nobody can ever take away.  Unless it’s stolen, I suppose.

But  the fact of the matter is that being selected for International duty means you're the best available player in your position in the country and, in the case of some players, that was a rather sobering thought to some fans.  So, without further ado, let’s dive into the team with the capacity to strike sheer and utter despondency into the hearts of its own supporters...the XV Of England Players Who (If We’re Being Honest) Probably Shouldn't Have Been England Players.  Snappier titles will be considered.

1.  Darren Crompton.  Ah, Dazza.  The Bristol prop was a solid bloke who anchored the Bristol scrum during that season where they finished 3rd in the Premiership, in 2006-07, and was rewarded with a call up to the England squad for their tour to South Africa, mainly because coach Brian Ashton was without players from Leicester, Bath and Wasps (between them, most of the England squad) due to European Cup commitments.  Now, Darren was a decent prop – he could hold his own in a scrum, but he was never the most mobile and, since he was 34 when he made his bow in international colours, he was practically stationary by the time he put on the England shirt.  Looking like a bouncer from a local Oceana nightclub didn’t help his cause, and he also had one of those tragically frumpy English names – you know, the sort that would miss a penalty in Football World Cup shoot-out.  Think about it – Chris Waddle, David Batty, Darren fits.

2.  Matt Cairns.  Those that remember Matt Cairns will recall two things – firstly, the fact that his head represented a near-geometrically-perfect egg and, secondly, that he was a bit of a Premiership journeyman, spending the majority of his career with Saracens but also having spells with Sale and Harlequins – but everywhere he went, he tended to be a squad player.  Plenty of effort of course, but it’s probably fair to say that if England hadn’t been robbed of half their squad before the 2007 tour to South Africa, Cairns would have remained the perfect example of the uncapped club man.   

3.  Paul Doran-Jones.  At one point, PDJ was heralded as something of a ‘man for the future’ for England, making his debut in 2009.  Much was made of his mobility and the fact he is a finely chiselled young man – much like his schoolmate and fellow ‘film-maker’ (google it), James Haskell – so it was unfortunate that he was utterly pants at scrummaging.  He spent most of his time in England colours being turned upside down in the set-piece and being battered backwards in contact.  And, sadly, it looks like that talent hasn’t materialised as hoped, with the prop now languishing in the reserves at Harlequins.

4.  Louis Deacon. It may seem odd to pick on somebody who has 29 caps for England, but if anybody represented that tedious wave of numb despondency that overcame you when you read yet another uninspiring England team selection, it was probably Louis Deacon.  Or Steve Borthwick, but at least he was lineout geek and – to be fair – was an England captain, rightly or wrongly.  Now Deacon was as tough as nails, but was about as mobile and athletic as the very comfy sofa that I’m currently sat on and offered next to no threat to opponents.  Unfortunately, he falls into that category of England players whose best quality was ‘being brave’, which fills you with admiration...but not a whole lot of confidence.
"Is that biltong??"
5.  Mouritz Botha.  There’s a list of reasons for picking poor old Mouritz, despite the fact he packed a punch in the tackle.  First, he looks like a beefed up Worzel Gummidge.  Secondly, his hands were like giant bars of soap.  And thirdly, it was just that he was very, very South African as opposed to English.  Now, I am in no way one of those “Little Englanders” who will only accept white chaps born in Buckinghamshire as potentials to wear the red rose – blokes like Hartley and Tuilagi are fine by me, having come through the youth grades and what-not – but if you were to pick out a stereotypical South African, Mouritz would be atop of the list, chewing away on some biltong.

6.  Roy Winters.  Another man who made his bow on that ill-fated trip to South Africa in 2007, Winters is by all accounts a Bristol legend and an all-round good egg. He was usually a lock but made his international debut on the flank, so that’s where he fits in – and he’s selected for many of the same reasons as his old club-mate Darren Crompton.  Solid bloke, yes, but international quality?  Not by a long shot.  And, as well as having the typical name of an English penalty-misser, he’s called Roy.  Roy does your gardening or fixes a leaky pipe – he doesn’t play international rugby.

7.  Andy Hazell.   Almost sounding the horn for the start of Andy Robinson’s reign of disappointment himself, Gloucester stalwart Hazell had the unenviable task of filling the retired Neil Back’s shoes.  We can assume that Robinson’s thought process was, “He’s small, he’s aggressive, he’s just like Neil Back”, but unfortunately it didn’t really work out like that.  Making his international appearances exclusively through 2004-5, Hazell became known as a bit of a penalty machine and was part of an England pack that started to get bullied at the breakdown on a regular basis.

8.  Jordan Crane.  I find Jordan Crane a tad misleading.  You would think that any number eight who bleaches their hair has probably more than a pinch of magic in their boots – but you’d be dead wrong.  Crane is a great club number 8, but when pundits use the word ‘plodding’ to describe his movement, you can see why he isn’t someone to take the game to the opposition.  Didn’t do anything wrong in his appearances per se, but that’s not really a ringing endorsement when you’re supposed to be talking about the chief yard-maker in the pack.

9.  Shaun Perry.  Just pips Peter Richards, the man who looks like a low-budget 80s adult film star.  Much was made of the fact that Shaun Perry was an ex-welder when he burst into the limelight during an impressive season with Bristol, and it did make a charming rags-to-riches story.  But, let’s be honest, he still very much looked like a welder even in an England shirt.  He wasn’t the most nimble scrum-half in the world to put it mildly and seeing him crammed into his international jersey when facing the All Blacks was both sobering and cringe-worthy in equal measure.  They had Justin Marshall.  We had Shaun Perry.
Andy Food - AKA The Specimen
10.  Andy Goode.  I should say at the outset that I rate old Andy very highly as a player – he’s been a dominant force for a decade in the Premiership and he had some very decent games indeed in an England shirt.  He’s by no means the worst 10 to play for England, not by a long shot.  But look at him.  Fly-halves are supposed to be the pin-up boys of any side, the athletic and charming playmakers who have more girlfriends than anyone else.  Goodey looks like a space-hopper with a comb-over.  No matter how cultured that boot is, the England fly-half – the poster boy of the international side – shouldn’t look like that.

11.  Lesley Vainakolo:  ‘The Volcano’ stormed onto the scene for Gloucester, doing something ridiculous like scoring five tries on his debut against Leeds, before qualifying for England on residency grounds despite having represented New Zealand in rugby league.  He even turned down his native Tonga for the chance of playing for England.  But his biggest contribution on the international scene was to do model a very pretty braiding arrangement in his hair for 80 minutes, but other than that he provided sweet F-A.  For a man of that power and ability, to remain anonymous for 5 full Tests was pretty remarkable.

12.  Henry Paul.  Another example of a New Zealand international rugby league player who conveniently changed national allegiance upon picking up rugby union, Paul was arguably one of the biggest flops of all time in an England shirt, especially considering his talents and success in the other code.  He picked up 6 caps for England, with his final one coming in 2004 against Australia, when he produced a display of absolute ineptitude, prompting coach Andy Robinson – who was a bit trigger happy in his early days as head coach – to haul the centre off after just 22 minutes.

13.  Joel Tompkins.  The most recent of players to make the side, Tompkins was the latest man to try and fill the 13 shirt in the absence of the perennially injured Manu Tuilagi.  Another man who had found success in rugby league, Tompkins was at least in no doubt about his national allegiance but unfortunately was probably one of the least inspiring picks to ever play in an England shirt, proving about as intimidating as Mother Theresa.  Not quick enough or nimble enough to go round people, not strong enough to go through, not aggressive enough to seriously threaten in defence, and – despite his talents – he didn’t make a single offload in the 2013 Autumn Series (his only international campaign).  Even his haircut was very, very boring.  Just pips Ayoola Erinle, who at least had a distinguished club career behind him.

14.  Phil Christophers.  Christophers actually played in that glorious 2002 Autumn campaign and, like a couple of others on here, isn’t in here because of poor performance, but rather because of p*ss poor appearance.  I’m shallow like that.  Looking like he’d arrived straight on the rugby field from Eton School, having been given a lift in a helicopter by father, Christophers highstepped his way around the field with his hair flopping around like a Hugh Grant wig, and presumably shouted “Tally-ho” with every carry of the ball.  It’s difficult to like a really obvious toff at the best of times, which is probably why the South Africans high tackled him into next week.

15.  Mark Van Gisbergen.  Yes, he has a cap – only a fleeting one, as a late replacement for Mark Cueto against Australia in 2005 – but he does boast a 100% winning ratio in international colours, so you can’t knock that.  But was he really good enough to be in the England team?  Don’t get me wrong, he was a marvellous kicker of the ball but aside from that, “Gizzy”’s main strengths were dropping the high ball under limited pressure and getting gassed on the outside. 

Coach:  Andy Robinson.  His record speaks for itself, but his fate was sealed when – after a defeat against Argentina at Twickenham – he responded to a question as to what at gone wrong with a smile, a shrug, and a “We were crap”.  That’s not good enough, Andy.

 Who have we missed, or who's been hard done by?  Leave your thoughts below.



  1. Shontayne Hape, Phil Dowson, Matt Banahan, Nick Kennedy, Ricky Flutey, Lee Mears, James Forester, and finally....Stuart Abbott!


Share your views