What Does England Need To Do To Improve?

One of the major stories out of the 2008 Rugby League World Cup was how poor England played.

Winning just one of their four games played at the World Cup, and then only just beating Papua New Guinea, the England side went to Australia talking themselves up and left with their tail between their legs.

While some are now using the line “They didn’t play to their potentual, they really are better than that”, the fact remains that results over the last 10 years have been the worst in the history of the British game.

For real change to happen, and for results to turn around, the entire game in England needs to be pulling in the same direction. Unfortunantly for Rugby League in the UK, the game is full of egos and agendas, and making this happen is almost possible.

However the RFL needs to take a tough stance anyway and put in place a few things that will lead to improvement.

I personally don’t believe there is a quick fix. England posseses no players that are playing today who are capable of tunring things around, and there are no younger players or coaches who look capable of turning into the quality players needed to kick on and become the best in the game.

Any moves made now to improve are with long term goals in mind.

So what would I do to improve the British game?

Lifing The Standard Of Game Officials
One thing to come out of the World Cup was complaints by Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia that English Super League referee’s were not up to standard.

All of these nations requested that future games they are involved in are controled by NRL referee’s.

This has been an issue for many years and the gulf between NRL and Super League officials has grown immersurably over the last decade.

The issue hasn’t been helped by the attitude of English administrators and fans, who have seen such complaints as an attack against the supposed “English Game”.

The RFL needs to put in place a program to upgrade refereeing standards at all levels.

All referee’s at Super League level should be professional referee’s. They should attend referee training sessions, video sessions and be graded on every performance they put in.

If referee’s don’t put in place the standards the RFL sets in place, they should be dropped from the top grade. If they continue to fail, they should be saked.

Make no mistake, if there is a chance to become a professional referee then you will find officials in the lower ranks of the game will push and improve themselves and become what the RFL wants them to be to atain their goals.

Areas of the game in which the RFL needs to focus on are:

1. Consistency in the 10 meters given between referee’s. This has always been a problem in England.

2. Clearing up the play the ball area and forcing attacking players to correctly play the ball and allowing defenders to complete a tackle before calling for them to move off the tackles player.

3. Offside calls, especially from kicks and players standing at marker.

On top of this the RFL should make a few changes to certain rules to bring the English game to a level that other nations play. Some of the rules I would put in place are:

1. Only 8 interchanges per game. This is the direction Australia has been heading towards, its time for England to be pro-active for once.

2. Get rid of quick taps from the 20 meter line. Allow the defense to set before the tap can be taken.

3. Add a 50/10 to the 40/20, this would encourage more work on the kicking game.

The idea is to tighten up the game and force teams to lift their standards. The changes made will mean that there is more of an emphasis on defense, therefore making it harder to score points.

This means that in attack teams will be forced to be more creative and individual players will have to add to their skill set.

Teams will have to learn how to break down a defense, how to apply pressure and try and get repeat sets of six. Field position will be at a premium, meaning teams will be pushing for better kicking and better positional and attacking play from their fullbacks.

New Elite Performance Group
England really needs a clear and focued push for improvement in playing stanards. The RFL can not just sit back and hope clubs drive for these improvements. Clubs have their own agendas, all based around short term goals. The RFL needs to have longer term goals.

The RFL needs to set up an elite group within the game who’s entire focus is improving playing standards at all costs.

The Director Of Performance for the RFL would be in charge of lifting standards and basically kicking heads. It would be one of the most powerful positions in the game and would be the break between the adinistration side of the game, and the football side of the game.

The Director Of Performance would have a coaching background so that he knew what he was looking for in players and coaches. He would be able to turn up at any club at any time and view the progress of players while also making suggestions about certain programs players might be played on to help their development.

His job will be a thankless job, he is not there to be liked and it is almost assured that he will given a hard time when pushing for reforms and changes in the game.

On one side, people will see it as a position held by a big ego, a dictator. The reality is this will be the most selfless position in the game.

The National Coach would long longer be required to be selected on a full time basis. The National Coaches role would be very simple, to give the England side the best preperation possible and to provide the game plan and game management needed at the elite level.

The National Coach should be a current top class coach from the National Rugby League. When they come into the room, they are the boss.

The Director of Training And Fitness would be charged with making a complete review of the training methods at the elite level and would go on to be the head trainer of the England side during Test matches.

Yearly Review
At the end of each year a review of playing standards would be held among this main group and the RFL administration to plot the progress being made in the games standards.

This will allow any changes to be made going into the next season and to give a greater focus to areas that are not meeting the standards set out the prevoius year.

Accountability would be brought into the game and with a small group pushing the game forward, you wouldn’t find the efforts to impove being diluted among too many chiefs when you dont have enough indians.

Halfback Academy
We have now gone a few generations of players since Great Britain produced a player with the full skill set that a modern day halfback requires. This means that we have a generation of coaches in the UK right now that are teaching halfback play, when they themselves do not know what is needed for good halfback play.

To change this, the RFL should set up a series of coaching clinics held around the country for the games elite junior halfbacks. Only halfbacks and standoffs would be invited to these clinics with the idea utlimately to plant the seed in the minds of young halfbacks to take in what the best players in the world are doing, mimic them, practice and improve their own game, and ultimately learn what it takes to be a top halfback.

Coaching Clinics
The Halfback Coacing Clinics would be set up around the apearance of a top of the line halfbacks.

They would include a talk to a top of the line halfback about some of the things they do in a game and would include passing and kicking drills.

The RFL should produce a DVD that can be made available to players at these clinics. You need someone quick and easy to use that young players can throw in their computers or DVD players and be able to see anything they need very quickly.

1. It should include a section on how the halfback controls a team with commentary by the likes of Andrew Johns, Allan Langer, Ricky Stuart and the like. It should show plays teams use, higlighting the halfbacks play and the options available to him.

2. It should have a section on kicking techniques, the way to kick the ball different ways, but most importantly commentary of how certain game situations dictate which is the best kick to use.

3. It should contain a section on passing, from the very basics, to counting defender, to how to know which player you should pass the ball to.

4. The RFL should organize to get a top halfback such as Scott Prince or Jonathan Thurston to be set up with a microphone during a match with accompanying footage of just how he controls the game. It should show the entire games worth of attacking football, howing how the halfback organizes his attack, how he positions himself and the players around him and as a result, what he does during the game himself to help his team win.

This is not a highlights DVD and is not a promotional tool. To some people this would be a very boring DVD, but to anyone wanting to learn more about the game it would be gold.

At the end of the day the difference between players that wear a 7 on their back, and the very best halfbacks is desire. By targeting the games young halves, you might see a few hundred players over the course of a year. If just two or three of those players take on board what is being taught, go home and work hard on their game, you just need one of those youngsters to kick on and become a test halfback who now does know what is needed.

National Talent Scouting Scheme
England is well behind most other Rugby League nations when it comes to having players who, in pure athletic terms, can be regarded as being part of the games elite.

Other nations are producing World Class athletes who have proven they can compete at a high level in a number of other sports. What the RFL needs to do is target youngsters who are pure athletes and get them to choose Rugby League.

The RFL in conjunction with Super League clubs should hold a number of talent scounting camps that are promoted as a way for prospective young athletes to test themslves and possibly get a foot in the door on the way to becoming a professional athlete.

At these camps players would be tested in speed, strength, endurance, print times, verticle leap and other physical markers, all in front of Super League talent scouts.

The best of these groups will be given scholarships to help them enter the game, with fees paid, equipment bought as well as knowing that they are on the radar of Super League clubs.

This will be a way to get athletes that normally wouldnt have thought about Rugby League being able to look at the game as a real option. There are few sports in the world that pay better than a top class Rugby League player.

You need to give young athletes the idea that Rugby League is a good career path to follow. There is no doubt that Rugby League in the UK is open to any young athlete who is comitted to improving themselves.

There are many different ideas about what needs to happen, and you could talk about changes to representative programs or better preperation all you like.

The fact remains though that unless the English game can produce players who are up to standard with the likes oif Australia and New Zealand, it can never hope to compete with them on a regular basis.

The work that needs to be done to make this all happen needs to start now.

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