Saturday, April 02, 2005

English rugby: The bad old days

The death the other day of Charles Kent at the early age of 51 brings back memories of an era when one did not so much support the English rugby team as suffer with it. (We heard faint echoes of them in the international season that has just ended.) Every selection seemed to contain half a dozen new caps, and the coaches were obsessed with elaborate tapped-penalty moves which never, ever came off.

Kent's selection - he won five caps at centre in 1977 and 1978 - was based upon the insight that if England tried to string more than two passes together they invariably dropped the ball. His approach upon receiving the ball was to run headlong at the opposition's midfield with an almost insane courage, whereupon the English pack (a strength even in those dark days) would wade in to support him. His was not the only selection of those days based upon despair of winning by more conventional means: England fielded a remarkably chunky scrum half - Mike Lampkowski - throughout the 1976 Five Nations.

England were not helped by the ramshackle nature of their club rugby. The best players were scattered amongst dozens of clubs which seldom played one another. Nevertheless, the talent was there: the bulk of Bill Beaumont's 1980 grand slam XV, playing as North & Midlands, had beaten the touring All Blacks several years previously.

As the Irish hooker Ken Kennedy said at the time: "England have the players; what they have to do is find the selectors who will pick them."

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