England had All Blacks coaching maestro Wayne Smith in their grasp

Wayne Smith knows when to make the right calls.

Wayne Smith knows when to make the right calls.

All Blacks coaching maestro Wayne Smith agreed to financial terms to join the English test team's setup only to get cold feet.

Former England rugby supremo Rob Andrew details how close they came to snaring the technical genius behind the All Blacks in his new biography Rugby: The Game of My Life: Battling for England in the Professional Era.

All in a chapter dedicated to England's 2015 World Cup disasters, Andrew ponders how things might have played out had he been able to get the Smith deal over the line.

Stuart Lancaster's promising rugby coaching tenure with England ended in disaster at the 2015 World Cup.

Stuart Lancaster's promising rugby coaching tenure with England ended in disaster at the 2015 World Cup.

Andrew, a former test first-five, is highly critical of Stuart Lancaster's handling of the England campaign, especially his decision to call in untested rugby league convert Sam Burgess.

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Andrew described the England effort as "a slow-motion car crash" as they exited the tournament after pool play. The All Blacks, in contrast, went on to win their second consecutive title with Smith making a huge contribution as one of Hansen's assistants.

Wayne Smith's bonds with the All Blacks and head coach Steve Hansen were ultimately too strong to see him help England.

Wayne Smith's bonds with the All Blacks and head coach Steve Hansen were ultimately too strong to see him help England.

Andrew had been negotiating with Smith in 2012 and believes the England campaign would have been different with the Kiwi's magical touch.

"I don't think for a moment that the Burgess thing would have been allowed to take on a life of its own in the way it did had Wayne been on hand to keep things in perspective," Andrew writes in a book extract published in The Telegraph newspaper.

"At one point, I genuinely thought I'd landed him: we were happy to give him the rest of the year off and receive him with open arms at the start of 2013, and even though the All Black hierarchy was placing him under huge pressure to stay put, we actually agreed financial terms.

"But in the end, I couldn't quite close the deal. 'I just can't do it,' he told me. And of course, he was back in the New Zealand coaching team for the 2015 World Cup in England. And who won the thing? Well, it wasn't us.

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"What might we have achieved had Wayne decided differently and brought all his experience and perspective to bear on the England environment? It's hard to say with any certainty, but he would surely have saved Stuart and the rest of the coaches from themselves during the run-in to the big event, when the good habits and sound management of the previous three years appeared to evaporate.

"The heat and intensity of a World Cup on English soil undoubtedly had its effect on Stuart, who flew directly in the face of his own good judgment at important moments and ended up paying a heavy price. With Wayne there to support him, things might have turned out differently.

"Wayne might even have talked Stuart out of shouldering additional responsibilities just when he should have been narrowing his focus and directing it solely on the one thing that mattered: the national team and its performance on the global stage."

Andrew believes the England campaign unravelled in the leadup to the tournament and the pressures of operating on home soil. And he says their methods were out of kilter with what the All Blacks would have done under the circumstances, something Smith could have avoided for them.

"I think our physical preparation for the tournament would have been very different if Wayne had been around," Andrew writes.

"After the last round of Six Nations matches, when we almost pinched the title in what amounted to a cricket-style run chase against the French and left the Twickenham crowd in a state of feverish excitement the like of which I'd never previously witnessed, England had travelled to the United States for some high-altitude training in Denver, Colorado. Too many players went on that trip: instead of being a highly detailed, narrowly focused, tournament specific camp, it bore all the hallmarks of an extended trial geared towards final selection. 

"Those involved did an awful lot of running, on the presumption that the World Cup matches would feature unusually high levels of ball-in-play time (which they didn't). Even when the wider squad gathered again for the pre-tournament warm-up games with Ireland and France, there was still uncertainty over selection.

"Why did Danny Cipriani play against the French in Paris when his chances of surviving the final cut were seen as somewhere close to zero? Why was there a competitive trial game at the team base in Surrey the day before the final announcement? Why did some players struggle to sleep that night for fear of being axed at the last minute?

"This was the polar opposite to the All Black way of doing things. Where was Wayne when we needed him?"

Smith has just ended his 20-year association with the All Blacks, retiring from the coaching staff at the end of the Rugby Championship which finished with a 25-24 win over the Springboks in Cape Town last Sunday (NZT).

 - Stuff


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