Devolution causes as many problems as it solves

The more one thinks about it, the more one realises that devolution in its present form causes as many problems for the Union as it solves. The Union, after all, is just a nation state known as Britain, in which citizens as far afield as Penzance and the Hebrides have equal political rights to one another – further, and flowing from these political rights, we citizens also have equal access to cultural and economic benefits offered by the unity of Britain.

If we are to continue to recognise Scotland as a political entity, not just a cultural entity, then we have to recognise England as a political entity too. So far so good. But if the Union is going to comprise four political entities, one of which dwarfs the lot, the Union will be grossly imbalanced. Resentments and jealousies are as likely to grow as they are to diminish – probably more likely. This may serve nationalist interests, but it does not serve the interests, in any way, of Unionists.

The problem – or one of them, at least – is in thinking the United Kingdom is in fact a federal Kingdom. It is not, and never has been. A dominant England will end up dominating these islands. One of the great benefits of having a single parliament is that it extends equal political rights across the whole of the Union. We are in the process of building a Union of unequal rights. This is dangerous. The genius of Britain as a political entity is that England no longer exists as a political entity. As far as politics is concerned, no one is English and no one is Scottish – until now, that is, and more’s the pity.

It is worth reflecting on how this happened. The Scottish parliament was not created because devolution to the former nations of the Union is recognised as the best way to govern it; it was created because the Scottish nationalists realised the very existence of the parliament would drive a wedge between Scotland and England. And this is precisely what it has done. I hope this referendum vote is the last of Scottish separation; but I doubt it. Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves if we were right to devolve powers to separate parliaments and assemblies at all. I wonder if now is the time, despite almost everything saying it is not, to reinvigorate Unionism and moot the idea of a single parliament again?


The Left has so much to answer for

After the referendum we are left with division – division between Scots voting ‘Yes!’ and Scots voting ‘No!’ With any luck they will find a way to come to terms with the result, but my suspicion is that things will be raw for a long time yet. I also suspect we are embarking on a period of even greater trauma that could well lead to a split some time in the future.

And it is difficult to see how divisions between Scotland and England will not now intensify. A light has been put on the stupendous idiocy of the original devolution settlement that allowed Scottish MPs a say on English issues while not returning the favour. The English can be slow to identify injustice, but when they do…

But all this is in a sense incidental – it will happen as it happens. All this could have been avoided a long time ago, but various acts of destruction were perpetrated that may well make division more likely – not less. I am interested in why politicians do stupid and destructive things. I am interested to know who to blame. Whose fault is all this?

Not, mind you, because blame games are good in themselves – they are not. But it is always important to understand why things happen. If we do not, and if we make no effort to find out, we are destined for things to continue their sad decline, and one day we will wake up to be living on an island divided by arbitrary lines, cutting families, friends and fellow-countrymen off from one another.

Britain is – and this needs saying more often, despite the shrill invocations to the contrary – a great country. Probably one of the greatest ever to have existed on this earth. To kill it, I assure you, will not make the world a better place – and it will certainly not make the lives of the inhabitants of the British Isles any better.

It is easy to blame David Cameron. He agreed the referendum. He agreed the wording, which gave the separatists an inherent advantage – co-opting the positive word ‘Yes!’ and focusing attention on Scotland’s independence rather than Britain’s end. It would be interesting to know how many extra votes these simple affirmative exclamations garnered for their cause. He was also, as people are beginning to say, far too cavalier in his approach, at least until the panic in the week leading up to the vote.

But it wasn’t really his fault. Once the Scottish electorate, in 2011, returned to parliament a majority for the SNP of 69 seats out of a total of 129, Cameron had little choice if he was to avoid being called a Tory naysayer (or words to that effect). The wording of the referendum remains unfortunate, and he should have fought a bit harder, but he remained mostly aloof because he assumed, quite logically, that Conservative involvement would haemorrhage votes from the ‘No!’ campaign even before a word was uttered.

Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists are another culprit. Well, this is obvious; but an end to the Union is what they want so they can’t really be blamed. Yes, he will say anything to get votes out, and he has no identifiable scruples, but that is the modus of the demagogue and that is what he is for. The fault lies much deeper. Forty-five percent of the Scottish electorate didn’t have to vote his way; something of far greater import has gone wrong with the Union and with Britain.

But what?

Nick Cohen, writing in the Spectator, has an idea. A number of left wing English intellectuals, he writes, were possessed by a loathing of England. Anyone who sets themselves up against England, so the logic goes, cannot be all bad. But this is not just left wing loathing of England. It is every bit as much left wing loathing of Britain and pretty much everything you might lump in with traditional understanding of those two entities.

Nick Cohen, of course, impeccable left winger that he is, raises the point because he doesn’t want the left to become an anti-English movement. It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot to admire about Nick Cohen. He writes with the clarity of an Orwell, and he takes a principled stand against state regulation of the press, and exposes to great effect the hypocrisy of many left-wingers over some of their most cherished shibboleths – feminism, equality, anti-racism.

But what drives Nick Cohen in this instance is a fear that left wing politics might be rejected in England because of crude anti-English sentiment. If socialism is to control Britain then it needs to control England, and in the new post referendum paradigm, England has woken up to not only the unfairness of the West Lothian question but also the imbalance in public spending between Scotland and the rest of the UK. If Labour does not get this right, they could suffer, especially as they might be about to lose the influence of the Scottish Labour MPs in future English-only business.

But here’s the problem. The dominant strand of left wing politics today is very much about anti-Englishness – and anti-Britishness too. There was a time when the Labour movement did patriotism; there was a time when the Labour party would have no truck with ideas and movements plainly anathema to British civility. But somewhere in the mists of time the Labour movement was almost completely captured by those who hated Britain and all she stood for. Those who took their inspiration from the toxic theories of Karl Marx rather than the compassionate example of Christian socialists. That is why the left has worked so hard to change so much about the country – they weren’t reformers; they were vandals. What sort of love is it that seeks to change everything about a person? I love you, darling; I love you so much I want you to become a completely different person. Doesn’t wash.

It is noticeable in the way many on the left assume that anyone criticising England and Britain can’t be all bad. It’s been going on for decades – complacent toleration of Soviet sympathisers while eviscerating the career, political or otherwise, of anyone even taking the piss out of Nazis by wearing their clobber at a party; the lazy equation of Britishness and Englishness with inherent racism; the implacable desire to keep handing power to the nation-destroying EU; the mass immigration which seems to be viewed as a means to dilute the existing, obnoxious British population; and accompanying all this are the insidious, oblique references and attitudes that there is something wrong with Britain and England at the most basic level.

What Nick Cohen is asking for is perfectly reasonable – that the left shows a little more love for the English. His fear being that the left ‘will not get a hearing unless they give the impression that they like their fellow citizens; and don’t regard them as irredeemably prejudiced xenophobes and creeps.’ True enough. Neither does he want Labour to ‘find itself portrayed as the enemy of the English.’

The problem is, in so many ways the modern left is precisely those things. They don’t like a good proportion of their fellow citizens, particularly those who remain quite attached to the history and achievements of their country, and especially the ones who don’t accept this leftist characterisation of their country as racist, xenophobic and bigoted. They want to be permitted their traditional English and British identity without being sneered at. If the left can alter this attitude then that would be a good thing, for the left and for the country. But it would have to be genuine. Gordon Brown perfectly demonstrated the two faces of the modern left in his response to Gillian Duffy in 2010. When he left her he said, ‘Very nice to meet you.’ But when in the supposed privacy of his car he let his true feeling out: ‘Just a sort of bigoted woman.’

I would suggest Nick has his work cut out. Leopards and spots and things.

Three things English cricket might like to consider before next summer

Since England has lost the 2013/14 Ashes series 5-0, it is both tempting and easy to think English cricket is in a parlous state. Losing to Australia is never something to pep the old English spirit, but it is, as we of a minimum age are well aware, not the first time it has happened. It is also true that every lost series is soon followed by a new season and new opportunities to put things right. As it happens, the last whitewash at Aussie hands was the catalyst for three consecutive Ashes victories, so perhaps those weary disciples of English cricket presently having ‘doubts’ should think of Brian and look on the bright side.

There are, of course, one or two other reasons for pessimism: Andy Flower, the coaching architect of recent success, has gone; Kevin Pietersen, England’s most outrageously talented batsman in years, perhaps ever, has also departed; the English top order, with or without Pietersen, seems incapable of scoring runs; and the usual post-debacle vortex of speculation, recrimination and general unseemliness appears to be in full whirling motion.

But things are not so bad. Although Graham Swann’s departure leaves a difficult hole to fill, England’s bowlers are still highly capable; they were not the problem in Australia. And although Andy Flower has certainly been great for English cricket, the arrival of a new coaching regime with fresh ideas should give the team a welcome lift. It is not all cloud and rain over English cricket. Yet there is work to be done to ensure this loss, as emphatic as it was, is but a blip. In the spirit, then, of constructive criticism, here are three things the new hierarchy might like to consider for the future:

Find a new Geoffrey Boycott

This might seem like a strange suggestion, especially at the very moment the selectors and Paul Downton, the ECB’s new managing director, seem to be taking a stand against players who might be a little difficult to handle. But it is not Geoffey Boycott’s team-building skills to which England should look; it is to his stubborn refusal to give up his wicket without a fight.

Success in recent years – three Ashes wins in a row, don’t forget – was built on scoring runs up front. Counter-intuitively, this means batsmen prizing the defence of their wicket above the scoring or runs – up to a point. Stick around long enough and the runs will come, but lose early wickets and the middle order is exposed to the new ball.

Last summer Ian Bell’s brilliant middle-order batting obscured the top order’s failure to stick around and score runs. To have expected him to reproduce the same form in the return series in Australia was to expect too much. The English used to cite ‘scoreboard pressure’ as a key factor in their success, but it’s not been mentioned much recently. Perhaps the team’s lack of runs made such talk irrelevant, but perhaps they also thought the middle order would get them out of trouble again.

So the England selectors might like to begin the search for someone with the same belligerent, ‘wicket before runs’ attitude as Geoffrey Boycott and stick him somewhere in the top three. Nothing lifts opposition bowlers like a few early wickets, and nothing gives your own bowlers confidence like having 500-or-so runs to defend.

Solve the ‘four bowlers or five’ conundrum

Just as playing with five bowlers weakens the batting, playing with four bowlers weakens the bowling – unless, that is, a great all-rounder is available to balance the side. Not since the end of Andrew Flintoff’s test career in August 2009, having played a pivotal role in securing the Ashes, has England had a balanced side. A great all-rounder can make the difference, but a great all-rounder is a rare breed. Most teams have to manage without, and if they are successful it is usually because they have at least two outstanding bowlers who have the power of three: such as McGrath and Warne for Australia, and Anderson and Swann for England. Either that or the opposition is dire.

England came unstuck in 2012 when they last played South Africa in England, losing 2-0. Although they managed, with the assistance of playing a sixth batsman, the very workable totals of 385, 425 and 315 in each of their first innings, South Africa matched them, scoring a whopping 632 for 2 declared in the first test. England’s bowlers, capable as they were, simply ran out of steam. Bopara, Pietersen and Trott were not of the required standard to cover the absence of a genuine fifth bowler. Even Anderson and Swann were not enough, Swann actually being dropped for the second test. South Africa, needless to say, played Morkel, Philander, Steyn, Kallis and Tahir.

This was also, it should be said, the series Kevin Pietersen was dropped for disciplinary problems. But he was not the reason England lost: the South Africans were the better team, not only for the simple reason that they scored more runs and took more wickets, but because their team was balanced by the inclusion of a genuine fifth bowler. Not much needs to be said about Jacques Kallis, except that he is a batsman who has taken more test wickets (292) than many great bowlers, and a bowler who has scored more test runs (13,289) than many great batsmen – the perfect all-rounder.

Yet it is not as simple as just sticking in a fifth bowler and assuming everything will be fine. England played five in Australia and we know what happened. Ben Stokes did well, scoring his maiden test century and taking wickets; but the top five were not scoring runs, and even five bowlers could not defend the meagre totals they were given.

So England will probably have to decide whether Stokes is good enough to score runs and be that fifth bowler. If he is, England’s future looks promising, but if he is not, the coach and captain might be better served by playing six genuine run-getters in the hope of suffocating the opposition with sheer weight of runs.

Stop stockpiling young cricketers – or sort Steven Finn out

One of the most dispiriting images of this tour was Steven Finn struggling in the nets. He was, and remains, a great talent. Graham Swann predicted that he would be the best cricketer in the world by about this time, and he wasn’t joking. That it hasn’t happened; indeed, that Finn seems to be disintegrating at a shocking rate, poses serious questions for both coaches and selectors.

When he first appeared for England, in the 2010 series in Bangladesh, his arrival was much heralded. With tall delivery, lively pace and a mouth-watering ability to pitch the ball on the perfect line and length, he seemed like the bowler to emulate Glenn McGrath. For him, taking wickets would be like picking low-hanging fruit. But it hasn’t happened. England will hope his dip in form and confidence is temporary and that he is still finding his style and will come good. Yet some cricketers, for all their promise, fail to forge successful careers.

Finn might prove to be one of these cricketers, though we surely hope not. If he is, then so be it; but young cricketers need to ‘find their game’ by playing cricket. They cannot do that carrying drinks or working in the nets. They need to play games, in the middle, against real batsmen who are going to fight back. There is nothing so nonsensical as taking young cricketers on tours to learn how to tour. If they are not going to play in the test team, they should probably not be on the tour at all. There is also a very strong argument that all that spare time has had an adverse effect on Finn’s psyche, and that his efforts in the nets have been counter-productive: that he has, in fact, been over-coached.

So England might like to think about their youth policy. Young cricketers should be playing, if not with their counties, then with the Lions, or perhaps with a grade team in Australia; but they should not be carrying drinks at a stage in their careers when they are still developing and getting to know their game. Squad cover should be left to the older cricketers, to those who have already learnt what they can and cannot do on the field of play. Cricketers, perhaps, like Graham Onions.

How to follow test-match cricket

Question: What’s the best way to follow test cricket?

Answer: Team bus, then the pavilion, then at the wicket with your teammates.

Well, obviously! But the average cricket punter isn’t so fortunate as to play for England, and he is more than likely stuck at home. As such, cricket votaries must find another way to keep up with the latest developments 10,000 miles Down Under, even though things have not begun quite as England would have wished.

There’s television, radio, alternative-radio, newspapers, blogs, social media and your mate Dave who, to your immeasurable envy, has got an entrance ticket to the Gabba or the Melbourne Cricket Ground or wherever his unjust good-fortune has taken him, and from where he is sending you provocative texts and photos of the scene, knowing full well that it’s the middle of the night back home and freezing cold and you’ve got to go to work in the morning.

Mates, eh? But we live in modern times, do we not? And with great technology comes great… No, hang on, that’s something else… Here it is: With all this new media comes greater choice in how we might follow the cricket. So, just what is the best option?

Time gone by, when players wore facial hair for reasons other than Movember, you’d have waited for the papers, which in turn would have waited for the steamship. Or a decade or two later you might have gleaned the score at Sydney from the clipped and crepitating voice on the wireless in the corner. But today we have an abundance of media options. If you are yet undecided on how to follow the Ashes this winter, or are struggling to make sense of this babble of choice, then perhaps this will help:

Let’s begin the old fashioned way: with newspapers. Take your pick. Broadsheet, tabloid, Berliner—all of which publish full scorecards and ample comment. It’s comment, really, that most elevates the British press. We know traditional newspapers are struggling to make a profit right now, but their future viability is dependent on high quality articles, with greater depth and nuance, rather than the currency of their news, for which they cannot compete with electronic media.

The political environment is also somewhat hostile, but it’s difficult to see why either politicians or regulators might want to stop Derek Pringle and Mike Atherton venting their frustrations in black and white. Newspapers also tend to give a considered view. Cricket writers are able to spend the day percolating their literary conceits, and the reader gets to wallow in their joy or misery, whichever mood the players have roused in them.

But lack of immediacy is a genuine problem for newspapers. These days we like to have things 24/7, but we have to wait until the following day before reading about the exploits of Mitchell Johnson or Ryan Harris; and as play doesn’t usually finish until the sun is shining on Greenwich, reports miss the final hours of play. By the time the newspaper story gets to the reader, he already knows what has happened. Editors need to offer something more.

Which brings us to television: the Rolls Royce of cricket-following options. If you’ve got High Definition, all the better. Ball by ball, and to the very second, you can follow the action the other side of the world. TV — that most modern and culture-shifting of devices — allows the viewer to see, in full florescence and at various speeds, each snorting wicket, scintillating catch and glorious shot, all with expert analysis on hand to explain the action. And if we’re lucky, we might catch one or two fruity sledges. The commentator’s words are less important in this medium, mostly because we can see the action perfectly well for ourselves, but this is one instance when less really is more.

Yet there is a problem with television coverage: not everyone can get it. Each cricket devotee will have their reasons for not subscribing, but the most prevalent is, no doubt, cost. The coverage maybe good, but it isn’t cheap. So millions of cricketers are orphaned from the game, like waifs bereft of the thing that sustains them. Other options are required.

Up steps radio. Aficionados like to claim this is the ‘high art’ of the form, which may or may not be the case; but the real reason for the success of radio (or voice broadcast, as is more pertinent a description since we can now listen through the internet) is that it doesn’t cost a penny (apart from internet connections and computers and smartphones; but apart from that, it’s free).

With radio broadcast, the bucolic tones of an Agnew or a Blofeld, or the late Johnston and Arlott, sing through the air and we are transported to the field of play in a way that engages the imagination more effectively than the clearest of television pictures. Because we have to make an effort to imagine ourselves there, the rewards are so much greater than sitting passively in front of the TV. Some viewers are even known to turn the TV commentary down and the radio up — No offence, you guys!

If it can be said — and I don’t see why not — that artists prefer the visual medium of television, then poets probably prefer radio; and the comedy poets have emerged on the scene in recent years. In 2009, Andy Zaltzman, self-confessed comedian, presented a radio programme: Yes, It’s The Ashes, a humorous take on the oldest cricketing rivalry. But Test Match Sofa, recently acquired by The Cricketer Magazine, now carries the mantle of ‘alternative’ commentary. Taking a more matey and irreverent approach to live cricket-chat than BBC’s Test Match Special, it broadcasts every test match played by England.

Yet perhaps you feel you cannot devote all the hours of the night — the ones normally spent sleeping — to the cricket, while at the same time remaining either employed or married. It’s a moot point as to which is the more desperate creature: the cricket widow or the cricket widower; but spending twenty-five winter nights with men from Down Under whispering sweet sorrows and elations into your ear is probably not the healthiest of pastimes.

You might, then, try a podcast, to which you can listen at your convenience. Test Match Special unleashes Geoffrey Boycott for a good twenty minutes at the close of play each day. And Cricinfo offers a less frequent but no less interesting podcast. Or you could listen to the day’s radio commentary on the iPlayer while at work. Who’d know?

This is where technology begins to bamboozle us with choices. Choice is a good thing, of course, but the options seem to expand exponentially. Perhaps the most democratic medium — in that anyone and everyone can broadcast their opinion — is Twitter. There are other forms of social media, but we’ve all heard of Twitter. With the help of the BBC’s cricket correspondent or current and ex-cricketers or celebrities or your mate Dave, you can keep up with the action. The only limitation is the number of people we choose to follow. Though sometimes someone will tweet ‘THAT’S OUT’ two minutes after everyone else has done the same, thus inducing mild coronary because we think yet another batsman has fallen to the national malaise.

The thing about social media is that it allows us mortals to join in — up to a point. In earlier times the cricket devotee listened passively to someone else telling the story, occassionally profaning at the television or the radio if suitably inspired, but now he can offer his own wisdoms and witticisms — lot’s of them. Perhaps he has coaching expertise to impart to some batsman who’s just been castled or a bowler who’s just thrown down a long hop and been hoiked for six? They’d appreciate that, I’m sure.

It’s probably the invention and gifting to the world of Internet technology, by Tim Berners-Lee, that is most responsible for this proliferation. It’s not possible to survey all of the web pages so far made, but a brief internet search of the term ‘cricket’ reveals 497,000,000 results. Happy reading! There’s no end to the stuff. Much of it is drivel, and much is out of date, but there’s certainly something there to satisfy most people.

Journalists, as already mentioned, are having a tough time of it at the moment, and cricket writers are no different. But the Internet has released all sorts of new voices. There are many writers out there, some professional, some unprofessional (meaning unpaid rather than incompetent, though they might be that too), who offer interesting commentary. Cricket truly is the sport of poets. Perhaps more than any other sport, it has provoked great writing, and while much of it ends up in books, a lot is also written on the web. Allan and Alex Massie, father and son, frequently venture their views on the game (go on, internet them); and there are plenty of other blogs from which to choose. They might not all offer the scores, but they offer thought.

And that’s what the game of cricket is really about: thought, and the mind. It would be inconceivable to play any game for five days solid and expect to rely on brawn alone to achieve the ends. Skill, of course, is also required, but it is brains and mental fortitude that makes the difference.

Indeed, perhaps it is the meandering paths of intellectual intrigue, from selections to field placements to line and length to declarations and much more, that bewitches cricket lovers so much: to the extent that the love of it becomes a sort of pathology.

There: ‘Cricket as Pathology, Discuss.’

And perhaps this is why devotees enjoy seeking out so many complicated and obscure ways to keep up with the day’s play, especially when the series in question is the Ashes. But as it happens, there is no best way to follow test cricket. Just follow any way you can.

There are other people, you know

Along comes the third autumn test, this time England versus New Zealand, and I’m reminded why I find fair-weather supporters irksome. When I say ‘fair-weather’ I don’t mean clement weather, and when I say ‘supporters’ I don’t mean those who watch from the stands on a wet and windy afternoon – I’m not that hardy; rather I mean those who watch on television.

No, I refer to the blokes who only seem interested in the sport when the team is doing well, which should probably be known as Reflected Glory Syndrome, or something like it. The sport in question is rugby, by the way, if that wasn’t clear.

Along I popped, then, to the pub – I do not have Sky TV – and I could barely move for the bodies, most of whom were students, cluttering up my television room. That’s right, so uncluttered is the place usually that I see it as my alternate TV room. It’s been fine the last two weeks. I could even make it to the bar for a packet of peanuts. But it was definitely not fine this week.

They all turned up, practically every student in the city, barging and putting their heads right in front of the screen, seemingly oblivious to the presence of anyone else who might want to watch the game. It’s not on, really it isn’t.

The problem, however, is not that they were there. I welcome genuine supporters. The problem is that half this lot didn’t seem all that genuine. They only seemed to have turned up because the English were on a bit of a roll and looked as if they might be able to beat New Zealand again (although they did not). And because they’re fair-weather supporters they didn’t mind obscuring my view of the screen, which, of course, is the thing I find irksome.

England win against Fiji in the first Rugby International of the Autumn: 54-12

Oh my word, there was a lot of hair styling going on with the England Rugby team today. They were playing Fiji. Can’t help thinking something’s not quite right when that’s the first thing you notice on match day, on hefty rugby types? Danny Care, for example, and not quite so hefty I admit, went for a high and tight and floppy on top thing, and Joe Marler seemed to be wearing what can only be described as a hairy slug on his shaven head.

After ten minutes play, Care was shown a yellow card for a spear tackle. The connection of hair cuts to discipline on the field is not wholly convincing, but he does have form in other areas. But if he’s decided to channel his extra-sporting energies into hairdos rather than drinking, being disorderly and visiting police stations then that’s good.

No real damage done, though. On his return to the field, after ten minutes in the bin, England were three points up, and not, as I believe the averages predict, seven points down. Not only was this a good omen for the game, but also a good means of forcing the team to knuckle down from the start. And when the binned player returns, it’s like playing with an extra man for the rest of the game.

To prove the point, Care returned and Sharples scored, with Flood converting, and it was 10-0. Okay, so this doesn’t really prove any point. The idea is nonsense, about as much nonsense as broken glass theory. Break a window or go a man down and you’ve lost something, no matter what else happens as a result of that loss. All the rest is just pseudo-rationale.

At about this point in the game, I noticed another fashion thing going on, for this is the weekend sports teams embroider poppies on their shirts; only the rugby boys seem to favour their poppies being on their guns (bicepts – or lower shoulder, at least). There was also Tuilagi’s little rat’s tail, and, being the month of November, Flood was trying to grow a moustache in aid of Movember and cancer awareness.

A penalty took England to 13-0, and Deacon Manu got a yellow card. Except this wasn’t going to work to Fiji’s advantage; it only works if you at least have parity, and Fiji did not. England clearly had the upper hand, but lacked precision, the kind of precision the All Blacks dish out with extra relish when facing weaker opposition – which is admittedly everyone else in the world except perhaps South Africa when grumpy. Ball to hand and running lines need improving. At 37 minutes, Sharples did the hard work, chipping the ball down the line after yet more effective but scrappy play, except could not ground it. Precision is found in the fine margins, where teams not only fail to get points but actively lose them.

Ugo Monye then popped up to score. I had thought his international career was over, so it was good to see him back, even though I’m not sure he has quite as much to offer as some of the other players waiting in the, err, wings. (That was funny because Ugo plays on the wing!)

Half-time, 25-0, and Greenwood and Morris in the Sky studio seemed to corroborate my critique with their interactive TV, showing examples of how lateral running gets you nowhere and straight running gets you over the gain line – two different games, as they said.

Fiji also lacked precision, knocking on from the England restart. Knock on led to scrum led to penalty led to three points for England. It’s a ‘simple game,’ as Greenwood and Morris said. The course of the game had been set, and points from Johnson, Sharples, Flood and Tuilagi added to Fiji’s woes. Fiji did score a try, but it wasn’t going to get them back in the game.

The match ended on 54-12, and the papers called it a thrashing, which it was. But I can’t help thinking it prescient that Fiji got the last score – a timely reminder that England did well, but need to work on their precision if they are going to win against Australia next week.