Rugby Union: England hoping 'Baby Whites' can earn respect

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The Independent Online
THE best efforts of David Campese and Michael Lynagh notwithstanding, rugby union continues to lag behind rugby league in the average Australian's sporting affections. The gap seemed wider than ever in Brisbane last night; while the 13-man game was throbbing with the partisan passions unleashed by the annual Queensland-New South Wales spectacular, the union minority were struggling to work up some enthusiasm for the visit of an England team of less than dazzling anonymity. The State of Origin on the one hand, a complete state on the other. No contest.

Yet today's Cook Cup meeting between Australia and the old country at the Suncorp Stadium is pregnant with historic potential; indeed, a decisive victory for either side will have any number of ramifications both on and off the field. If England, with their five new caps and rank upon rank of second-stringers apparently elevated beyond their station, were to lose by 50 - an eventuality favoured by the harder-nosed Brisbane bookies - the political wrangle over who runs what in England will inevitably flare up once more.

If, however, Tony Diprose were to lead his fresh-faced charges to the most extraordinary triumph since the biblical David got lucky with a slingshot, Clive Woodward and his fellow selectors might be tempted to call time on some eminent England careers. Certainly, the odds would lengthen against the Guscotts, Leonards, Johnsons and Rodbers sailing serenely under their own steam towards next year's World Cup.

"We had the Baby Blacks back home in New Zealand," said John Mitchell, the All Black No 8 turned England assistant coach, recalling the events of 1986 when his country lost virtually an entire side to a rebel tour of South Africa yet still managed to beat a quality French team 18-9 in Christchurch. "If this game marks the emergence of the Baby Whites, well fine. I'd be one happy guy.''

Certainly a whole lot happier than Pat Sanderson, the Sale wing-forward. Scheduled to make his Test debut on the open-side flank, Sanderson went down with tonsillitis last night and was replaced by another debutant, Richard Pool-Jones, the former Wasp who has recently been playing out of his socks for the French champions Stade Francais in Paris. "I'm not intimidated in any way," he said. "My last game was in front of 80,000 cup final supporters at the Stade de France and I'm sure the French would tell you that I'm worth my place.''

Worringly, neither Mitchell nor Woodward were remotely as bullish yesterday. "I can't fault the enthusiasm or desire shown by these young players over the week or so we've had on the training pitch, but whether those attributes will be enough against a big and direct Wallaby side is anyone's guess," admitted Mitchell, as open and honest as ever. "I've never been in this kind of situation before. We've got 80 minutes to earn the respect of the Australians and if we fail, we'll earn ourselves some humiliation instead.''

But for the late cry-offs from Will Greenwood and Neil Back and the wounding eleventh-hour withdrawal of Matt Dawson, the scrum-half and tour captain, England might just have fancied their chances of forcing John O'Neill, Dick McGruther and the rest of the Wallaby hierarchy to spend the rest of the year contemplating an unpalatable diet of their own words. As Rod Macqueen, the Australian coach, acknowledged earlier in the week, his side are only in the foothills of the peaks scaled so imperiously by the Campo generation.

Mitchell wants his forwards, especially, to fight for their honour today. He will accept defeat - the circumstances are such that he has little choice in the matter - but he will not accept capitulation.


at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

M Burke NSW 15 T Stimpson Leicester

B Tune Queensland 14 S Brown Richmond

D Herbert Queensland 13 M Perry Bath

T Horan Queensland 12 S Ravenscroft Saracens

J Roff ACT 11 A Healy Leicester

S Larkham ACT 10 J Wilkinson Newcastle

G Gregan ACT 9 S Benton Gloucester

R Harry NSW 1 G Rowntree Leicester

P Kearns NSW 2 R Cockerill Leicester

A Blades NSW 3 P Vickery Gloucester

T Bowman NSW 4 D Grewcock Saracens

J Eales Queensland, capt 5 G Archer Newcastle

M Cockbain Queensland 6 B Sturham Saracens

D Wilson Queensland 7 R Pool-Jones Stade Francais

T Kefu Queensland 8 A Diprose Saracens, capt

Referee: A Watson (South Africa) Kick-off: 11.0 BST (Sky Sports 1)

Replacements: 16 C Whitaker (NSW); 17 N Grey (NSW); 18 J Little (Queensland); 19 V Ofahengaue (NSW); 20 O Finegan (ACT); 21 D Crowley (Queensland); 22 J Paul (ACT).

Replacements: 16 S Potter (Leicester); 17 D Chapman (Richmond); 18 A King (Wasps); 19 B Clarke (Richmond); 20 D Sims (Gloucester); 21 D Bell (Sale); 22 P Greening (Gloucester).