Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore, I am) is a philosophical statement in Latin used by Renes Descartes which became a foundational element of western philosophy. The simple meaning of the phrase is that if someone is wondering whether or not he exists, that is in and of itself proof that he does exist.
I think I can disprove this theory. Steve Borthwick thinks, but is he? There is such a leadership deficit in England's ranks that if they do not address it shortly they will list in their current state of ordinariness for a couple of seasons, taking on more water but not yet holed below the water line.
When England took the field against Australia in RWC 2003 they had eight captains of England in the side – Martin Johnson, Phil Vickery, Richard Hill, Lawrence Dallaglio, Neil Back, Matt Dawson, Jonny Wilkinson and Mike Catt. They also had some decent first lieutenants in Josh Lewsey and Will Greenwood and the requisite number of Indians to match the chiefs. Now they have an empty vessel, led by a captain whose leadership is so undistinguished that it is unsustainable. It speaks volumes about where England are today.
Three years ago Ireland beat England in Twickenham, a great game marked by Shane Horgan's incredible last-minute try. In that match Steve Borthwick was as anonymous as the invisible man's second cousin once removed, Mr Incognito. In my player ratings for that match I gave Borthwick one out of 10 – a lamentable performance. On Monday night he went to the local meeting of Anonymouses Anonymous. "Hi, I'm Steve. I played for England last week and was practically invisible. I'm an anonymous."
He has picked up 45 caps for England, nine as captain. Unbelievable. When I watch him line-out for England it's not so much to see what he does but more to see if he is caught on camera after the national anthem. From now on I am going to call him Red October.
I'm not into match stats but one particular statistic stood out last week. A bit like American Football, each individual player was attributed yardage – how far they had carried ball that they had taken on. Borthwick had negative yards. He was knocked back behind the gain-line every time he carried. What is Martin Johnson thinking? Borthwick's opponent next Saturday, Paul O'Connell, had 10 carries for over 65 metres, he had 13 tackles, three off-loads and 10 line-out wins. It's very hard for anyone to compete with that quality and industry. But that is the gulf in class.
When picking a captain observe rule number one – the guy must be worth his place on the team. If he isn't then the quality playing on the side will find it difficult to do what he says even if he has Churchillian motivational skills. Is he the best second row in England? Not even close. Bob Casey and Marco Bortolami are, foreigners both and symptomatic of England's struggle. Ben Kay and Simon Shaw are past their prime. George Skivington and the departing Tom Palmer are not up to the standard. And Jordan Crane is a back-rower.
Why has Johnson picked a poor player and a poor captain (played nine, won three) to captain England? Sometimes strong and dominant personalities don't like operating in an environment where there is another powerful individual. Two alpha males trying to avoid a confrontation is not a recipe for success. Johnson often told Clive Woodward to take the day off and he would take the team himself. Johnson though would be clever enough to realise that leadership is vital on the pitch as opposed to in the stand or in the team room. He would also be aware that a captain suffers by comparison if there is a powerful personality in the coach's/manager's role. Johnson knows that picking a weak personality as a captain would not augment or aid his situation as il primo. And so all things being equal and having taken the personality issue into account, why did Johnson pick him? Because if you run the rule over any of the quality available to England that is the best he genuinely can come up with, which is a very sad state of affairs for the champions of 2003 and finalists in 2007.
The leadership deficit manifests itself all over the pitch. Vickery is a shadow of the player he was and outside of Haskell who made a very poor career choice by leaving Wasps and going to Stade Francais, nobody has any sign of officer material in any position in the team. This is an untenable situation, particularly if you have championship ambitions every year. Even in England's executive – eight, nine, 10, 15 – the decision makers and the players, who execute strategy, are well short of talent and smarts. Nick Easter is solid but very one paced. I hate Harry Ellis even more than I hated Austin Healy. He too is one-dimensional. Himself. Delon Armitage is good in the broken field and has pace but the kid has not a huge amount of footballing nous and is tactically inexperienced. The real problem though is at out-half.
English rugby fans want to have a hero at out-half – a Wilko type. They don't want to see Andy Goode at out-half, not because he has no pace or is an unreliable place-kicker or has no attacking threat or is an average distributor or he is a little too pudgy or his basic execution is poor. They don't want him in the side because he is really ugly. He has a face that looks like it fell off the back of a turnip truck.
Brian Smith is probably just a little too new into the job to rock the boat but I'm pretty sure given the style of game his teams play that Andy Foode's (sic) face doesn't fit the picture. Goode was never good enough to play at international level and Toby Flood is not the answer either.
England have been very unlucky with Wilkinson's injury plague – he is not a captain but he is a leader and even this average England side would be competitive against most sides if Wilkinson were in it. Imagine if Ronan O'Gara had suffered Wilkinson's misfortune over the years. Ireland and Munster would not have garnered half the success they have had. Wilkinson is still only 29 and could easily play in RWC 2011 – Johnson must be praying that he makes a permanent recovery as it will ensure that Johnson's reign lasts longer than Brian Ashton's.
In Wilkinson's continuing absence Johnson has to replace Gollum's Precious with the beautiful Danny Cipriani. The Wasps star gave one of the best and most forceful displays at 10 that I have seen in the Six Nations as England laid waste to Ireland last year in Twickenham. The reason Cipriani is so good is that he attacks the line. He has searing pace and a devastating outside break and having someone that quick on your first point of attack is a serious offensive asset.
Every defence he plays against has to check until he passes. The reason Riki Flutey looks so good for Wasps is that he gets so much time from Cipriani inside him and Goode or Flood won't afford him the luxury. Cipriani plays today against Northampton and I pray for Ireland's sake he has a bad game. Johnson will be an interested observer at the match as Ben Foden plays too at scrum-half and should be picked at nine for England to partner Cipriani. But Ellis will hold his job.
Johnson might also ask his former teammate Josh Lewsey to reconsider his premature retirement. Lewsey has been England's best back since the RWC 2003 final – forceful, sure, aggressive and a player with real clarity of vision and thought. The English got rid of him far too quickly. If you asked any of the Irish backs who they'd prefer to see on the pitch – Sackey or Lewsey, Cueto or Lewsey – the answer would be obvious. Remember his form in Twickenham against Leinster.
England's back three are lacking in their kicking game and tactically are not as adroit as the Irish in the kicking stakes. If Ireland are patient this will pay dividends.
England play a four-up press in defence – the line though isn't a blitz and the second centre comes up before the players inside him like a crescent. Ireland might find it difficult to generate something off line-outs and they will need to manufacture something from quick ball at the breakdown. England always leave a spoiler at the ruck that will have to be dealt with.
Ireland's greater mental capacity and urgency should see them through but despite all of England's problems they are an audacious selection or two away from having a side that could easily take Ireland. England have been lacking ambition for the last year, the same sort of ambition Ireland lacked for the last year-and-a-half and suddenly found three weeks ago. It's important the spark that England are looking for doesn't turn up in Croker.