Haskell: this is do-or-die for Scots and for England

 

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The Independent Online

By Chris Hewettin

England have better things to worry about than the strange case of Jonny Wilkinson and his balls during the hopelessly one-sided match with Romania last weekend, even though World Cup officials are still chewing the cud on the subject. International Rugby Board insiders say there is precious little prospect of disciplinary proceedings being launched as a result of the great marksman's picking and choosing of the ball ahead of his conversion attempts, even though the law dictates that a kicker should always use the one with which the try was scored, unless it is defective. Yes, Wilkinson was in the wrong; no, England will not be flying home early as a result of this little squabble.

The moment the matter was raised in the team hotel yesterday, two of them made their excuses and left, at Usain Bolt pace. Truly, World Cup paranoia is beginning to creep in.

It is not likely to creep out again until England are safely in the quarter-finals, for as things stand, there is no guarantee they will make it that far. Argentina's narrow win over the Scots in Wellington at the weekend was the worst possible result from the red-rose perspective, for it gave the Pumas the easiest route to qualification – a bonus-point victory over Georgia in Palmerston North on Sunday will be enough – and left Andy Robinson's team knowing that their tournament future depends on victory over their nearest and dearest at Eden Park on Saturday.

Should both Argentina and Scotland win without a bonus, England fail to take anything from this weekend's game and the teams end up tied with three wins apiece, the split will be made on old-fashioned points difference. Martin Johnson's men are miles ahead on that score, so in blunt terms, they need to finish within seven of the Scots.

James Haskell, the in-form No 8, analysed the situation yesterday. "I grew up watching England teams missing out on Grand Slams because of the Scots, who have a great history in this fixture," he said. "They have a World Cup-winning coach in Andy Robinson, they have never failed to make the quarter-final stage at this tournament ... it all adds up. This is a do-or-die game for them.

"But then, it's do-or-die for us too. I've felt that about every game: this is a World Cup and everything is a fight for life. If ever there was a time to really raise the bar against a Scotland side backed into a corner, this is it."

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