Deano deflowers Scotland

Ken Jones says the decision to restore a talisman was fully vindicated
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The Independent Online
WATCHING Dean Richards trundle around the field, strangers to rugby union are probably mystified by his purpose. Apart from anything else, England's veteran No 8 looks less like an athlete than the majority of his contemporaries.

Sartorial elegance does not come into it. Jersey flapping outside his shorts, socks around his ankles, he must be the despair of England's kit manufacturers. If he cleans his boots at all, it is probably once a fortnight.

Some may imagine that Richards' effect is more talismanic than technical. When told that Scotland hold Richards in great respect and regarded his recall to the team as a problem, they may have wondered about his age and whether there was one big game left in him.

In selecting Richards again, England's manager Jack Rowell indicated he had drawn a line under his team's recent liabilities. Uppermost in Rowell's mind were thoughts of stability. When Richards claims the ball, he is difficult to dispossess and slows the game down to England's advantage. Certainly, there was something grittily purposeful about Richards from the start.

If Scotland were to get the best out of their handling-and-running game, they would first have to undermine the influence of Richards. Seeing him win the first two line-outs without having to leave the floor and deal strongly with drop-outs did much to discourage Scotland's Grand Slam ambitions. Going coolly about his work, Richards was everywhere England needed him. He doesn't run when he can walk, yet you imagine him deaf to the Scottish anthems.

When Richards needed treatment 10 minutes from time, his strapped right knee looked decidedly wonky. When he went off, limping heavily, Englishmen stood and applauded. It was the departure of a hero. By then the Scots were ransacking history for examples of impending disappointment heroically overcome.

From the moment that Gregor Townsend selected the wrong option after opening England up in the second half, inhibitions coagulated in Scotland. From then on their response was more emotional than intellectual. Theirs was a more expansive game but they were overcome by England's determined orthodoxy.

Coming up against searching tacklers, they were unable to move the ball with their customary confidence. As with so many Calcutta Cup matches, this did not live up to expectations. Inevitably, there were acrimonious exchanges, but Scotland never came fully to the boil.

For Richards, of course, it was business as usual. A job well done. No fuss. Don't get excited. In the history of sport, there have been a number of players from the same mould and praised by all who came to rely on them.

Richards' mere presence in the England team was probably looked on by the Scots as a thoroughly bad omen.

Jonathan Davies, page 31

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