Chris Robshaw's men have set the standard for discipline that England should copy
24 November 2011
Harlequins, top of the Premiership, are only a short punt away from the Twickenham mad house but they are light years ahead in creating the kind of culture England must adopt in the wake of a disastrous World Cup and leaked confidential reports which highlighted deep divisions in the squad.
Rugby Football Union officials should pop over to the Twickenham Stoop to question the Quins management and players about the system they put in place this summer which has allowed the club to go unbeaten in 12 matches this season, playing exciting rugby with a squad who steer well clear of any off-the-field controversy.
While Quins do not live in the same media spotlight as the England squad, their work ethic and positive mindset would be welcome additions.
England need a fresh start and appointing Quins captain Chris Robshaw to take charge of the Six Nations defence would send out a much-needed positive message and he would bring to the table the self-imposed rules that have underpinned the club's rise to the top of the English league.
Quins are not alone in this country in operating a successful self-regulating system to keep the players in line and it's time England followed suit to recreate atmosphere that existed during the 2003 World Cup-winning campaign.
The club introduced their policy after some of the management, led by defence coach Tony Diprose, visited New Zealand side Crusaders, who include All Blacks No10 Dan Carter.
The rules are far ranging and although some are for seemingly minor off-the-field issues, they all aim to create a discipline within the squad, something that was clearly lacking with England.
Robshaw says the Quins players are now all fully on board with the idea.
"It doesn't matter if you disagree with the rules because off the field it is the same as on it where the referee makes a decision and if you don't think he is right, it still stands and you get on with it," said the 25-year-old, who will lead the side at home to Newcastle on Sunday.
"If a player disagrees with any of our rules; such as parking in the right place at training and wearing the correct clothes and kit then you get fined and if you keep getting fined then it'll be a case of sitting down with the coaches and senior guys and be told to sort yourself out.
"We've had words with certain players over things like punctuality in the first month but sooner or later everyone falls into line and it does become self-regulating. This year the players have driven the standards themselves and we want to go out and put in everything to being successful.
"It doesn't happen overnight and it means that when young players join the squad they see what is the norm in terms of behaviour and the standards you need to live by."
Conor O'Shea took over as director of rugby in March 2010 with the club still feeling the repercussions of the Bloodgate scandal, when players were told to fake injuries by Dean Richards earning him a three-year coaching ban.
Having helped to stabilise Quins he is now pushing the club on.
"At Quins we put a lot of work into creating the right culture but that takes time," said O'Shea. "That culture can grow and can also be imposed and we needed to improve our discipline in all areas and that has happened and while we are not perfect, if you get it right off the pitch then it comes good on it too.
"It is easy to take short cuts in life and it's not just about parking in the right place at the training ground; it's about being on time for all meetings, not being different and sticking to the dress code. This may sound pedantic but it's all part of being a squad."
O'Shea, who was a leading candidate to take over the England team manager role but opted to stick with Quins, hopes the fall-out from the leaked reports into the World Cup campaign do not damage rugby.
He said: "All of this is very frustrating because there are so many good things in the game and this report is, to a great extent, out of context in terms of what is really happening in English rugby. In any sport there will be people who are peeved, depressed and feeling down about things."