OK, so hands up everyone who honestly thought that, when Martin Johnson took over as England supremo, within six months we would end up with a line up that included Joe Worsley, Andy Goode and Mike Tindall?
Come on, hands up...
Back in what now appear to have been wonderfully naive times we were full of talk of Cipriani, Geraghty, Tait and Foden, full of hope for a lightening-quick back line and full of anticipation of a golden age of attacking rugby … and the subsequent appointment as attack coach of Brian Smith, who had transformed the stodgy London Irish into an attacking tour de force, merely served to whet further our insatiable appetite for change and innovation.
The Johnson era, we believed, would be so very different from the muddled confusion and mixed messages served up under the Robinson and Ashton regimes. Clarity of selection, tactics and communication would return once again to the England set-up. No more safety first selections, no more ill-thought out short termism and no more ditching of exciting young talent in favour of hackneyed journeymen.
Oh how adolescent our aspirations now seem - now that the likes of Geraghty, Foden and the extremely hard-done-by Steffon Armitage have been ejected from the squad, their attacking instincts jettisoned for the more prosaic talents of far less talented players.
I honestly never thought I'd see the day when England would travel to Cardiff with the sole intention of keeping the score down, but what else can the selection of this particular England team possibly signal? It appears to be a selection borne out of desperation, a selection made only for its supposed solidity in defence, a selection reliant on the boot of Andy Goode and the heavy tackling of Joe Worsley and Mike Tindall, a selection bereft of a single spark of attacking ingenuity.
England beating Wales in Cardiff this year was always going to be a long shot, but to give themselves any chance they needed to follow the example set by Scotland in the final quarter of last weekend’s game at Murrayfield and work on releasing quick ball to attack the space in the wider channels. Sadly, the bottom line is that England have no chance, not with these players, not with this ridiculously limited team, not with tactics that are rooted in damage limitation.
A St. Valentine’s Day massacre? I fear a cricket score and shall be watching from behind the sofa. Croke Park in 2007 was bad – this could be much, much worse.