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Interview: Former England international Austin Healey

Following England's early Rugby World Cup exit, Sports Mole speaks to Austin Healey about the potential ramifications.

Much has been written and said about England's early exit from the Rugby World Cup.

Ultimately, though, it was defeats to Wales and Australia that proved costly for Stuart Lancaster's men, who became the first host nation and previous winners of the tournament to be knocked out at the pool stages.

They did at least end on a high note courtesy of 60-3 win over part-timers Uruguay at the weekend, but that has done little to lift the gloom.

Here, Sports Mole has discussed the disappointing campaign and the potential ramifications with former England International Austin Healey, who was speaking as part of Ladbrokes Rugby's 'Who's Got The Balls' campaign.

Austin Healey

Many post-mortems have been done, but is England's exit a case of there simply being a lack of world class players within the squad?

"There isn't a lack of quality, more a collection of issues that all start at the top. We can't say we don't have any world class players, we just haven't developed our players to reach an improved standard. The long term planning, the coziness of the environment or the school classroom as some have branded it - have not given any of the players an edge.

"The style of play has been ever changeable because you've got two fly-halves that are completely different - both having their own merits - but the team starts to lose its own merits. They are adjusting their style based on the personnel and not asking the personnel to adjust their style based on what the tactics are. That is one of the major mistakes.

"There has also been a lack of attention to detail. Four years ago we knew that we were in a home World Cup and knew we would have to play Australia and New Zealand if we were going to win it. You'd be very unlikely not to play those two sides and win the competition. Within those sides you've got the best scavengers in the world, as have Wales with Sam Warburton.

"We decided that we didn't need to compete in that area and picked a back-row based on carrying, power, workrate and tackling. To my mind, we should have been asking who can be our best options. Do we go for someone that is already there, or develop someone else and turn a centre into a hooker like Tom Youngs or a winger into a back-rower? It's been done before and it's been done by other nations, I just cannot understand why we decided we didn't need to do it.

England's Chris Wood reacts after Bernard Foley scores the opening try during the Rugby World Cup match with Australia on October 3, 2015© Getty Images

"Ultimately, the fabled strength of our pack has completely disappeared. What has happened to the big English forwards that used to dominate the opposition? It didn't happen. They were swatted like a fly in the scrum."

Why is that the case?

"The environment has become too safe and the players have lost their edge. People are too scared to be themselves. You can't tell me that the players play that badly for their clubs week in and week out. Maybe they do and I'm just blinded! But, I think the Aviva Premiership has much more quality than the Celtic leagues and yet all three Celtic nations are through and we're not. We haven't even had the injury problems that they've had.

"We've been picking from strength - we've had so few injuries. Compare us to Wales and Ireland's situation now, as well as Scotland's general lack of numbers, and it just beggars belief. The buck has to lie with Stuart Lancaster and his coaches. He's a great guy and his coaches have their merits, but the reality is that you cannot reward failure."

Does that mean that you see no way back for Lancaster?

"There shouldn't be, no. There is definitely a place for him within the development of players in England, but not at the top level - he's shown that with some of his selections. Anyone that has played rugby will tell you that playing Sam Burgess and Brad Barritt together was a massive mistake. Then, selecting George Ford and Owen Farrell together was another mistake."

Stuart Lancaster, Head Coach of England looks on during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. © Getty Images

Should more have been made of the omissions of Danny Cipriani, Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi. We all know why they were not picked and while not condoning their actions, would they not have offered something?

"They were taken out because Lancaster wanted to paint a picture of these England players being completely clean, marketable and big role models. Rugby players aren't role models, they're idols - there's a big difference. I did a newspaper column in May about this and yet it's still all about this culture. Essentially, they've made things way too safe and way too protected, which causes things to become negative."

Who should replace Lancaster?

"The key is to get the selection process right. The only person that is English and has the experience to get that right is Sir Clive Woodward. The argument is to perhaps put Clive in charge and let him pick the coaches that could potentially lead the team to World Cups and making a more competitive England side as quickly as possible. As we sit here today, people who like rugby but maybe don't know too much about it, we all the same thing - we have fallen so far behind in a really short period of time."

Many people have insisted that only an Englishman should be considered, but would you perhaps be looking abroad as well?

"You've got to look at all options. You need to decide what sort of team you want to be first and how you're going to play. You want to set benchmarks, not follow them and that can be done in a variety of different ways. It can be analysis, fitness or development programmes - you've basically got to be thinking a bit outside of the box.

"Is it okay to relinquish the next three Six Nations because you're building a team for the World Cup in 2019? I don't think it is. Winning is a habit. You need to get that winning percentage up to what it was in Clive's day, which was in the 70% region."

Sir Clive Woodward prior to the RBS Six Nations match between England and Italy on March 10, 2013© Getty Images

What have you made of the tournament overall as we head into the quarter-finals? Has England's exit tainted it in any way?

"It's definitely spoiled it for me, but it's still been an amazing spectacle. I didn't think that the organisers would get it this right. I thought it would be something that just the rugby boffins would go to, but you can clearly see that supporters are coming from all over the world to watch the games. The one mistake? They've had way too many games in Cardiff. The Millennium Stadium is great, but maybe just have one or two knockout games there."

With eight teams remaining, who do you fancy to win it? Are pre-tournament favourites New Zealand still the most likely?

"Looking at the quarter-final draw, you might see a strange final. The injuries Ireland and Wales have suffered, I'd be surprised if either of them get through and Scotland play Australia, who look like the form side. I wouldn't be surprised if there were no home nations in the last four, which would be very disappointing. If you're a betting person, you'd put most of your money on New Zealand right now, but then Argentina did a pretty good job against them in the first game."

Watch Austin Healey and Jimmy Bullard challenge the values of football and rugby in 'Who's Got The Balls?' at LadbrokesRugby.com #RealBalls.

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England players huddle prior to the Rugby World Cup match with Australia on October 3, 2015
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