England's looming battering should be Johnson's last
Whilst I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially this close to a weekend it is saddening to tell you that we may be about to witness the demise of our formerly great England rugby team at the hands of New Zealand who are at odds of 1/9 to see off 5/1 England.
Having witnessed England be outclassed by Australia then scrape past a hugely under-strength Argentina side at Twickenham, the visit of a rampaging All Blacks team does not suggest that a turning point is coming up, especially when we look at the team that Martin Johnson has selected.
Out goes our one player who has looked creative but has had awful ball from the forwards, Shane Geraghty and in comes Ayoola Erinle who may be huge but cannot catch and is surely only in the side as Johnson thinks he will be able to stop the surging runs of Ma'a Nonu better. Ugo Monye although now switched to the wing inexplicably retains his place after two woeful displays against worse opposition.
Simon Shaw and Joe Worsely are in and while they are both great players, they are both old and it is infuriating that giving young players a chance is overlooked in favour of damage limitation against a New Zealand side that we would lose to anyway but it gives our future stars some experience at the top level.
You get the idea of how woefully England are doing when you consider that handicap has New Zealand giving us a 14 point head start at odds of 10/11 and we are playing at Twickenham.
The coaching setup in the England camp clearly doesn't work with the forwards looking clueless in rucks with slow, poor ball being recycled, while Paul Hodgson still has a lot to learn at scrum half and while Johnny Wilkinson is still our best player he inexplicably repeatedly stands about 20 metres behind Hodgson then kicks (poorly) or tries to run it which in turn means more slow ball once our forwards amble over to the action.
The one place England could trouble New Zealand as Italy did last week is in the scrum where the All Blacks had real trouble and this is essential to Johnson's side retaining any sense of dignity in this game.
Matt Banahan last week stumbled over the line with 10 minutes to go and is 14/1 to score first again, while Monye is also 14/1, Mark Cueto (now at full back) 16/1, but if we are to score, out talented back row of Lewis Moody, James Haskell or Tom Croft could be the answer if they can get some ball to run with and all are 25/1 to go over first.
Unfortunately for England, while this isn't the greatest New Zealand team we have ever seen, they welcome back four world class players who were absent last week, Daniel Carter (16/1 for first try), Ma'a Nonu (14/1), Richie McCaw (20/1) and Conrad Smith (14/1), while Zac Guildford (10/1) and Sitiveni Sivivatu (10/1) offer a much more potent attacking threat than our wingers.
Johnson may be able to achieve what it looks like he is setting out to do and keep England within the handicap, which he will no doubt see as a "platform to build on" so a punt on the All Blacks to win by 6-10 at 13/2 could be worth a bet with 16-20 the favourite at 9/2, while England pulling out a true shock and winning by 1-5 is 9/1.
With reported bad weather possible this could also keep the score and England's humiliation down as Nonu and Erinle embark on a competition to see who can knock-on more which could mean a lot of scrums and this could be good for the home side as a chance to exploit a possible All Black frailty.
The last two games would have yielded you a tidy profit if you had backed an England drop goal as the first scoring play and this can be backed again at 9/1 which looks a fair bet as Johnson will be eager to get something on the board so a total whitewash is avoided (yes we look that bad).
England have not beaten New Zealand since 2003 and have been trounced by 17 points or more in five of the last six meetings and looking at this team which is devoid of creativity, shorn of young talent and facing a near full strength All Black side, barring horrendous weather, the away side can make a mockery of the 14 points head start England have so a tentative look at the forecast on Saturday morning is advised before steaming in.
There is a part of this frustrated writer and rugby union fan that hopes England lose by 50 points so the powers that be will reassess if Johnson is the right man for the job (which he isn't), and if he does hold on to his post, we will plod on to the Six Nations simply hoping that we can win a couple of games while any aspirations of competing with the Southern Hemisphere sides will have to again, be put on hold.
First scoring play - England drop goal 9/1
New Zealand -14 - 10/11