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Alex Spink: Life on rugby’s treadmill has England struggling to keep up

26 Mar | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: Life on rugby’s treadmill has England struggling to keep up

Another Six Nations failure for England is branded "unacceptable" by Rugby Football Union boss Ian Ritchie

Chris Robshaw stood in the bowels of Twickenham on Saturday night looking physically and mentally drained from the exertion of it all. The boss of English rugby might consider England’s Six Nations campaign “unacceptable”, in that the world’s biggest and richest union failed to win the title for a fourth straight year. But there was no doubting the effort put in by Robshaw and his team mates during the eight weeks they were in Red Rose camp.

From the highs of beating Wales away and sticking a record number of points on France, to the lows of defeat by Ireland and not taking enough of their chances against Scotland, it had been an exhausting campaign. Yet rather than now being able to head for a sun lounger, the players have the small matter of the Aviva Premiership – followed by the quarter-finals of Europe’s two cup competitions.

On Saturday England trio Robshaw, Mike Brown and Joe Marler must drag their battered bodies to Wembley Stadium to play against Billy Vunipola’s Saracens in front of a world record club crowd in excess of 84,000. Before that Northampton and Wasps will knock lumps out of each other at Franklin’s Gardens. For this is the way in England where the clubs hold the players’ contracts. The English rugby treadmill never stops, which is one reason RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie stirred up a hornets’ nest with his damning verdict on England’s Six Nations performance.

On the one hand “unacceptable” was an understandable reaction by Stuart Lancaster’s line-manager when you consider England’s playing and financial resources. They are also hosting the World Cup this autumn and cannot afford to go into it kidding themselves that they were just unlucky, given that their qualifying pool is so tough that one of England, Wales or Australia will fail to reach the knock-out stages.

On the other, it was a harsh assessment given England had just beaten France by 20 points to rack up their fifth win in a row at Twickenham where all but one of their World Cup matches will be played. And given that the players are on their knees due to a seemingly endless playing schedule which pays scant regard to their welfare. “Billy V and I have spent the last eight weeks, side by side, now we are about to go head-to-head,” said Robshaw wearily. Vunipola added: “Chris and Joe (Marler) were joking last week that maybe they should give me a dead leg in the 80th minute against France.”

Only it’s not a joke, really. Wembley will attract a crowd which has only ever been bettered nine times at international level. The English Premiership goes from strength to strength, it’s popularity booming. But, rather like with English football, the success of rugby’s club scene does nothing to help the national cause.

The World Cup, with its rugby-free summer build-up, may just play into England’s hands. But Lancaster’s charges are unlikely to make light work of the mid-season Six Nations any time soon.