En Forme?- Mais Non!

Some years ago I worked with another English friend in a French language school. We both taught on Saturday mornings and this invariably followed a long night out. Our boss, a very jovial Frenchman, would always greet us by saying "Bonjour ? en forme??- to which we would always answer-come hangover or lack of sleep- "oui oui, en forme!? before giving each other a knowing glance.

Much has been said about the reasons for England?s dismal showing in the World Cup, from too many overseas players in Superleague to a basic lack of skill. Yet few have mentioned the form these players took into the tournament.

The majority of players came from the two dominant sides of the past two seasons, yet were either side really in form at the end of the last campaign? Leeds had slumped significantly towards the end of the season, with players like Burrow and McGuire failing to penetrate defences in the way they had at the beginning of the campaign. Whilst they produced a couple of gutsy performances to win the Superleague crown, Leeds were not of the stature of the previous campaign.

Likewise, although Saints? form had improved over the course of the campaign, key players, not least Wellens and Pryce, had failed to produce the form this season to match their previous efforts.

There were a couple of players whose form held in the tournament, especially Roby and Graham, but as with Graham when he played for Saints this year, too much was placed on the shoulders of impact players to compensate for the underperformance of others.

In the middle somewhere, between the likes of Burrow and Pryce who struggled and Roby and Graham who stood out, were players who on their day can be world class- yet none of them showed it. We all know that Martin Gleeson and Gareth Hock to name just two can tear defences apart, but again that form failed to materialise, the latter no doubt hindered further by a long period of suspension near the end of the season.

Many have said that we had an easy time of it in the tests against New Zealand last year, and no doubt they were a different proposition this time around. Yet from an England perspective, (ok, so they were GB in 2007 for what difference that makes), the 2007 series was a unique moment. We found a side in which almost every player was in form, peaking just at the right moment to produce individual and team brilliance.

This year, we found a side of players probably overburdened by their performances of the previous campaign and struggling to find that magic touch. So before we write-off England, Superleague et al., before we go searching for some great metanarrative to explain 36 years of failure, lets just consider for a moment that this just wasn?t our year; pack our bags home and move on.