England limit vision to victory

FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: Wales arrive with new confidence as they play on the champions' uncertainty
Click to follow
The Independent Online
STEVE BALE

Rugby Union Correspondent

If England are indeed assailed with doubt - which may be true, but is also a convenient Welsh theory - then they were not allayed when Mike Catt limped out of yesterday's final English training session at the Bank of England ground in Roehampton before this afternoon's Anglo-Welsh confrontation at Twickenham.

Catt, as it happens, has not looked quite as safe as the Bank of England as England's full-back this season though Jack Rowell, the manager, could be excused for being more concerned at having a strike full-back who seldom strikes. Rowell regards such a player as a prerequisite of attacking rugby, so perhaps it becomes a little clearer why England have been doing so little of it.

Catt removed himself to the team hotel in Richmond and as he was not immediately pursued by either the England doctor or physiotherapist a jarred knee - on ice, where England's champagne rugby also remains - will not prevent the South African from winning a 15th cap for the land of his mother.

The Land of My Fathers trained yesterday in a setting more familiar to Capt Timothy Rodber of the Green Howards and England back row: the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Berkshire. This is where officer cadets learn leadership, a subject in which Kevin Bowring, the Wales coach, would like to think his team have an advantage.

This has less to do with the fuss attending Will Carling's acknowledgement that he does not help Rowell pick the team than with Bowring's faith in the attributes of his own man, Jonathan Humphreys. "Jonathan leads from the front," Bowring said. "He sets the perfect example in his physical commitment and determination. He really gets into the face of the opposition, is keen to look them in the eye and is not prepared to go backwards. That is the sort of leadership the rest of the team responds to."

This is not simply a case of a coach saying predictably agreeable things about his captain - though Rowell has been considerably less effusive about Carling. For Bowring, Humphreys personifies a revived Welsh attitude to England which, while recognising English achievements of recent years, no longer allows the exaggerated respect that has led the past four Wales teams to step on to Twickenham already as good as beaten.

If that means a soupcon of spite, so be it. The Welsh may have made themselves obnoxious to Englishmen by the triumphalist manner of their support in the long-ago era of the 1970s but anyone who has observed what has occurred since then can hardly deny that a due sense of historical injustice - or whatever - is a help rather than a hindrance. Just look at the Scots.

When it comes down to it, however, the ultimately decisive features will be less esoteric. Rowell expects the game to be won and lost at half-back - which means he cannot afterwards go on about his England team in transition because that is precisely what Wales, not least their half-backs, are too.

That said, the greater pressure is on England, if only because expectations have come to be so vertiginous during the Carling years. In reality England were not that much better against Western Samoa than Wales against Italy, and English hopes of another Grand Slam have already disappeared after the defeat by France.

There are other extraneous matters that have not assisted. Professionalisation o has been more lucrative for England than, say, Wales but has also been far more of a distraction. For Martin Johnson in this of all weeks to be offered pounds 350,000 to move from Leicester for Northampton is enough to cause Rowell to despair.

There is some better news, though: Tony Underwood - an England player who has already left Leicester - is about to make his long-awaited reappearance for Newcastle after recovering from a knee injury which has absented him from rugby since the World Cup semi-final eight months ago.

His international return would give England extra incentive to play as they talk (fast and loose) even if their honour demands they try to do so here and now after the mischievous mind game that has been played by Bowring. "We need to develop a pattern of play which is more expansive and exploits the speed and exciting runners we have in the back line. I hope England buy into that," the Wales coach said.

To which Rowell replied tartly: "Mr Bowring, who is just starting in international coaching, should look after the Welsh team and leave the English team to someone else." Then there is Carling. "It's very kind of him to invite us to do that but we will play the way we think it will take to beat Wales," he said. Whatever way that may be, he will probably - and had better - be right.

n The International Board's ruling that players moving countries must serve a 180-day residency period before playing is illegal within the European Union, an EU official said yesterday.

A game for two halves;

Scotland v France, page 20

ENGLAND v WALES

at Twickenham

M Catt Bath 15 J Thomas Llanelli

J Sleightholme Bath 14 I Evans Llanelli

W Carling Harlequins, capt 13 L Davies Neath

J Guscott Bath 12 N Davies Llanelli

R Underwood Leicester 11 W Proctor Llanelli

P Grayson Northampton 10 A Thomas Bristol

M Dawson Northampton 9 R Howley Bridgend

G Rowntree Leicester 1 A Lewis Cardiff

M Regan Bristol 2 J Humphreys Cardiff, capt

J Leonard Harlequins 3 J Davies Neath

M Johnson Leicester 4 G O Llewellyn Neath

M Bayfield Northampton 5 D Jones Cardiff

T Rodber Northampton 6 E Lewis Cardiff

B Clarke Bath 8 H Taylor Cardiff

L Dallaglio Wasps 7 G Jones Llanelli

Referee: K McCartney (Scotland). Kick-off: 3.0 (BBC 1, BBC Wales)

Replacements: 16 J Callard (Bath), 17 P de Glanville (Bath), 18 K Bracken (Bristol), 19 V Ubogu (Bath), 20 G Dawe (Bath), 21 D Richards (Leicester).

Replacements: 16 G Thomas (Bridgend), 17 N Jenkins (Pontypridd), 18 A Moore (Cardiff), 19 S Williams (Neath), 20 L Mustoe (Cardiff), 21 G Jenkins (Swansea).

Comments