Saturday, 1 March 2008

Dear Brian...

''It is fair to say, and there is no point in hiding this because it's been said to the players, this is a big, big game for some players at the weekend.

''I am sure you know who they are, as well as I do.''

These were your wise words, Brian Ashton MBE, three days before England took on France in Paris last weekend. And yes, Brian, we all knew who you were referring to - Phil Vickery, Mark Regan, Nick Easter, Jonny Wilkinson and Ian Balshaw to name but 5.

Vickery, Easter and Wilkinson gave you the desired response against France, Brian, and Regan gave you his usual pantomime villain cameo. But Balshaw?

I know Balshaw gets plenty of stick from England fans (including yours truly) and I don't want this to be seen as some sort of bandwagon-jumping personal crusade (not that you are likely to pay attention to what I've got to say), but the fact is that Balshaw has increasingly become too much of an easy target. Why, Brian old chap, do you think that is? The answer is pretty simple really - it's because he's barely put together a half-decent performance since 2001 and, after a typically erratic (and frankly eccentric) performance against France which at times bordered on the embarassing, I and many others find it almost inexplicable that, once again, he has been retained in the England training squad at the expense of far superior players.

The only possible explanation I can come up with is that you are just too obstinate to admit that you've made one almighty howler in bringing Balshaw back into the squad this season - an obstinacy not helped, of course, by the clamour from the press (and from one of your favourite sons, Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio) for wonderboy Danny Cipriani to be picked at fullback. It's that same stubborn streak, Brian, that prevents you from restoring Josh Lewey to the squad - I can quite understand how, following Lewsey's underhand criticism of you post-World Cup, that you felt the need to show him who was boss by excluding him from your initial squad. But your point has now well and truly been made and Lewsey is back in sparkling form, so to continue to exclude him now just appears to be perverse and petty.

Given that Balsahw is still in the squad despite an almost universal outcry among fans and pundits for his exclusion, I can't imagine now that you would have the balls not to pick him again to start against Scotland. Loyalty is an admirable quality, Brian, but your faith in Mr. Ballsup takes this quality to a new and totally unjustifiable level.

Like a horse with a broken fetlock, Balshaw needs to be put out of his misery. Rather than an act of loyalty, his continued selection is nothing more and nothing less than an act of cruelty.

Or, like Andy Farrell in last year's Six Nations, are we going to have to rely on injury to force your hand?

1 comment:

Nursedude said...

My hope is that after the high of beating France in Paris, that England don't fall into the trap of not taking the Scots seriously. Even if Scotland finishes 1-4, a win against England would make their spring.