You could take it as a sign of terminal desperation that England believe they can bring fresh reserves of strength and motivation to this afternoon's Test with New Zealand at Old Trafford by immersing themselves in the legends of Bobby Charlton and George Best. Charlton never pretended to be much of a scrummager, after all, and while Best was took part in more than his fair share of rucks during his years at the top, none of them had anything to do with rugby.
Yet Roger Uttley, the England manager, insists that the spiritual home of Manchester's unique sporting culture will inspire his callow charges to greater deeds than might otherwise have been imagined in the light of last weekend's half-baked mish-mash of a performance against Australia. The players will be hoping against hope that Uttley is right, for they need all the help they can get.
It is perfectly possible that the Manchester crowd will generate more atmosphere than the fed-and-watered Twickenham throng produced last week - it would not be difficult - and an early English score would raise the roof. But Ireland managed early scores in Dublin last weekend and still had to suffer this magnificent All Black side scoring tries in their sleep as they secured a record 63-15 victory.
Given the unpropitious circumstances, neither Uttley nor John Mitchell, the disconcertingly frank former All Black now in his second month as England's assistant coach, were remotely bullish about their chances of handing the tourists what would be only their second defeat in 20 Tests (they last lost to the Springboks in Johannesburg 15 months ago, having already won the series). "We're trying to change the mindset of English rugby and it will take time, so our focus is on performing with credibility in this game rather than the outcome," admitted Mitchell.
"I can only be honest and say that we're going into this with trepidation. I played with and against a lot of the All Blacks in the current party and I have to say that in the three years I've been away from the New Zealand rugby scene, they've improved. They are now more comfortable with the tempo they were trying to develop at the last World Cup and having watched them play against Emerging England on Tuesday night, I'd say they're the best All Blacks I've seen."
Um. We're not holding our collective breath for a night of Mancunian celebration, then. If Mitchell does not believe his side can win - and no one who saw him play for both Waikato and the All Blacks in 1993 would rush to brand him a defeatist by instinct - the portents are gloomy indeed.
But while there was much sound reasoning behind this outburst of bleak realism - Mitchell agrees with the chief coach, Clive Woodward, that the ever-expanding volume of non-English players milling around the Allied Dunbar Premiership is undermining the very fabric of the game in this country - there are equally good grounds to believe that England will make a better fist of it than the Irish managed at Lansdowne Road.
To begin with, they are significantly stronger than the Irish in every area except the front row. Garath Archer had the temerity to mess the great John Eales around in the line-out at Twickenham last weekend, the back row unit has class stamped all over it and with Kyran Bracken mining a rich vein of form at scrum-half, England at least possess a launch pad. Provided they kick well - and that means both high and long, either on Christian Cullen's head or over it - they can exert territorial pressure. Not even these All Blacks score that easily from their own 22.
And besides, Woodward's baby-boomer generation will take an enormous amount from the experience, irrespective of the result. While the coaching team have been downplaying expectations at every available opportunity, the Matt Perrys and Tony Diproses of this world have been talking with breathless excitement of giving Cullen something to think about or putting Zinzan Brooke on his backside. Good on them.
Of course, the odds are piled mountain-high in the faces of the home side. Quite how David Rees can even hope to stop a fully recovered, fully rejuvenated Jonah Lomu is anyone's guess and if Jason Leonard fails to galvanise Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth into producing the games of their respective lives, the scrummage could well be a grisly sight. Honourable defeat, however, would give Woodward and Mitchell something to bite on.
Three evenings ago, John Hart, the All Black coach, was enjoying a drink in the team hotel. "This may be a question too far, John," said an English journalist, "but if you were coaching us, could you work out a way of beating the All Blacks?" "Yes," he replied. "And before you ask it, your next question would be a question too far." Oh well, Clive. We tried our best.
ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND
at Old Trafford
M Perry Bath 15 C Cullen Manawatu
D Rees Sale 14 J Wilson Otago
W Greenwood Leicester 13 F Bunce North Harbour
P de Glanville Bath 12 A Ieremia Wellington
A Adebayo Bath 11 J Lomu Counties
M Catt Bath 10 A Mehrtens Canterbury
K Bracken Saracens 9 J Marshall Canterbury, capt
J Leonard Harlequins 1 C Dowd Auckland
R Cockerill Leicester 2 N Hewitt Southlands
D Garforth Leicester 3 O Brown Auckland
M Johnson Leicester 4 I Jones North Harbour
G Archer Newcastle 5 R Brooke Auckland
L Dallaglio Wasps, capt 6 T Randell Otago
R Diprose Saracens 8 Z Brooke Auckland
R Hill Saracens 7 J Kronfeld Otago
Substitutes: 16 P Grayson (Northampton); 17 A Healey (Leicester); 18 G Rowntree (Leicester); 19 A Long (Bath); 20 D Grewcock (Leicester); 21 N Back (Leicester).
Substitutes: 16 S McLeod (Waikato); 17 J Preston (Wellington); 18 M Allen (Manawatu); 19 A Oliver (Otago); 20 C Reichelmann (Auckland); 21 A Blowers (Otago)
Referee: P Marshall (Australia) Kick-off: 2.0 (Sky Sports 2)Reuse content