Grand Slam winner Simon Halliday today backed England to win their Six Nations clash in Paris on Sunday. “What odds can I get from Ladbrokes?” he asked the lunch sponsors.
Speaking to an audience of sports writers at the latest SJA Ladbrokes Lunch in a Fleet Street pub, the former Bath and England centre spoke with admiration of the work interim England coach Stuart Lancaster has done in overhauling the self-respect and reputation of the national side so far this year.
“The French are there to be taken in Paris,” Halliday said. “It is a very average French side.”
Halliday, 51, who works as an investment banker in The City of London, continues to be an influential figure in the administration of his sport. A one-time RFU council member (“But I was never an Old Fart,” he insisted), Halliday now holds a senior position at Championship club Esher.
He is keen to see England rugby regain respect, on and off the field of play following the disappointment and controversies of the World Cup performances in New Zealand last autumn.
“We should be a top three side in the world every day of the week.
“What’s gone on in the past few months has got to have been cathartic,” Halliday said. “What went on at the World Cup was quite clearly a function of things drifting down from the very top, and had been going that way for some years. Media is the oxygen these days – rugby players going out for a drink, even with the rugby writers sometimes, never used to be that remarkable. But there’s no doubt it could have all been handled much better.
“The stock of English rugby has improved somewhat, and this squad of players appears to have made a commitment.
“If you ask 99.9 per cent of England players, playing in the shirt, that nationalistic fervour, is what it’s all about.”
As a former centre three-quarters, Halliday was supportive of the return of Manu Tuilagi in the England midfield, and did not under-estimate the intensity likely to be encountered at the Stade de France on Sunday.
“Playing France in France is a massive experience, and this week’s game is very much winner takes all – France need to win if they are to have any chance of going on to challenge Wales for the championship.
“England have shown that they can defend as well as anyone, but their midfield has got to show that they are capable of distributing the ball to those outside them. Chris Ashton hasn’t had a ball to run on to in the three games so far.”
Halliday remembers playing in Paris in 1992, “when Brian Moore was prowling along the touchline winding people up with all sorts of expletives. He was shouting in English, but the French understood very well what he was saying”. Two players were sent off in that game. “It was heavy stuff,” Halliday said, “and it could be heavy stuff again.”
Before that, Stuart Lancaster is expected to be interviewed for the full-time England coach’s job this week, and Halliday indicated that he thinks he has already impressed. “I don’t think it’s all about these Six Nations results. What’s important is the next three or four years,” Halliday said. “I can’t see how results in this Six Nations can hurt Stuart Lancaster’s chances of getting the job, though the results could help him.
“The key thing is to appoint the best man for the job, wherever they come from.”
Halliday sees parallels between Stuart Lancaster taking over the England side and the early weeks of the reign of Clive Woodward as national coach. “Clive worked his way into the job, and Stuart seems to be doing the same. If you look at successful coaching teams these days, they are always teams of people.”
Not that Halliday has any illusions over the best northern hemisphere side of the moment. “I’ve been quite unimpressed by what I’ve seen so far. Defences have dominated. England v Wales and Wales v Ireland were the stand-out games so far, and there’s a good reason for that – Wales have the best side now, and with their emphasis on youth, it looks like they have the best team for the future, too.”
Halliday, who played in the 1991 World Cup final and was part of the 1992 Grand Slam-winning England side, is currently in training for what he says is his “third and final” London Marathon, which he is doing to raise funds as a patron of Cardiac Risk in the Young – CRY.
“I became a Patron of CRY in 2005, after 15-year-old Sebastian English collapsed and died on a rugby pitch. Ten years earlier, his father Howard,a personal friend, had suffered the same fate right in front of me while training at Esher rugby club. No one knew at the time that this condition could be genetic, but they do now.”
According to CRY, 12 young people die each week from undiagnosed heart conditions.
“CRYs research in this field, as well as their work in bereavement counselling and screening, has raised awareness, but it is all driven by an amazing amount of fundraising,” Halliday said.
The SJA and Ladbrokes is making a contribution to Halliday’s fund-raising at next month’s London Marathon, and readers of this website are encouraged to find out more about the work of CRY by clicking here.
Oh, and in case you and Simon Halliday are wondering, Ladbrokes are offering 11/4 on an England win in Paris this weekend.
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Mar 12: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards in London. A gala dinner celebrating our colleagues work.
Mon Apr 16: SJA Spring Golf Day, Surbiton GC. Watch the SJA website for booking details.
Thu Apr 19: SJA Annual General Meeting. Details to be announced on the website and in members’ emails.
Thu May 10: SJA Ladbrokes Lunch with former England cricket captain Alec Stewart. Booking details to be announced.