It is the height of folly - no, it is sheer madness - to go into an international without a recognised and reliable place kicker

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The Independent Online
Lord Beaverbrook used to say that, if you did not blow your own trumpet, no one else was going to blow it for you. Here is a modest toot rather than a full blast. I expected Phil de Glanville to be the new England captain and wrote as much in this column a couple of weeks ago. I also expected Will Carling to retain his place.

Where I was wrong was in thinking that Carling would be picked in what was then his new Harlequins position, of outside-half (he has subsequently reverted to inside centre, at any rate for the important club matches). This would have enabled him to exercise his newly acquired place-kicking skills on his country's behalf and, at the same time, to leave room for Jeremy Guscott at outside-centre.

I would claim to have been two- thirds right. For Carling may still do the kicking at goal. Jack Rowell, who loves nothing better than a good tease - one reason why I thought he would go for De Glanville rather than for the better-fancied Lawrence Dallaglio - has left his intentions unclear. Most of my colleagues think the task will be undertaken by the new full- back, Tim Stimpson. Others speculate that the job will be done by Mike Catt.

Certainly Catt is the most natural kicker of the three. I have seen him put over several good goals for Bath in the absence of their regular place kicker, Jonathan Callard, who until last season used to be England's regular as well. Now he has been completely discarded. It may be that Rowell thinks that, at 30, he is too old to see England through to the next World Cup. But, if so, why is Carling (who is a month older) kept in the side?

Callard is not the most exciting full-back I have ever seen. But he retains his speed. He judges his incursions into the line well. Above all, he is a very good place kicker. So too is Paul Grayson, who undertook the duties last season. So is Leicester's new outside-half, Rob Liley, not to mention Wasps' left-footed full-back, Jon Ufton. Any one of these is the superior of the three potential place kickers in the England side: Carling, Catt and Stimpson.

It is the height of folly - no, it is sheer madness - to go into an international without a recognised and reliable place kicker. For five years, Wales have managed to retain a vestige of international respectability, largely through the efforts of the unappreciated (he certainly thinks himself unappreciated) Neil Jenkins. Ireland would have prospered more if they had possessed the wit to play Michael Corcoran, then of London Irish, now of Harlequins, on the left wing.

Nor have the large scores and the high number of tries that we have seen this season lessened the importance of the place kicker. If anything, he has become even more essential. Not only do tries have to be converted: moreover, the very changes in the laws which have brought about so many of them give rise to penalties. No one is now sure how or when the ball should be played after a tackle, what the tackle player should do and whether the other players should have to stay on their feet.

Murrayfield on Saturday provided an illustration of the continuing importance of the place kick. Many have talked about the might of the Australian forwards, even though they were below par. Few have mentioned the great contribution of the Australian full-back, Matthew Burke.

By contrast, most of the place kicks from his opposite number, Rowen Shepherd, looked as if they had been struck by a grandmother who had been at the malt whisky. Another Scottish example of the inebriated place kick used to be provided by Peter Brown. The difference was that his somehow struggled over, like what Punch used to call a late-night reveller managing to find his front door.

Rowell's other tease is to play two inside centres. I simply cannot follow his reasoning here. I do not know whether one of them will opt for the outside or both play left and right. What makes the decision all the odder is that Guscott has been in excellent form.

Afterwards, the Bath coach, Brian Ashton, asked somewhat theatrically if anyone could name a better centre than Guscott in England. Well, I can name two, actually. One is Allan Bateman, who plays for Richmond but is a Welshman. The other is Gary Connolly, who plays for Harlequins and is qualified for England. Picking Connolly would, I am afraid, be a tease too far even for Rowell.

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