Pressed men manage to keep joy well confined

Martin Johnson sees the England hierarchy put on to the back foot
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The Independent Online
The press-room door swung open, and in strode the coach and captain, scarcely able to contain their joy in their hour of triumph. Er, well, maybe joy is a touch over the top. Jack Rowell's toothy expression was less of a smile than that of a man having a cavity filled, while Will Carling, the former Army officer, gave the impression that he had wandered behind enemy lines and was offering nothing bar name, rank and serial number.

What a curious business, especially given the upbeat mood in the England camp beforehand. No one demonstrated this better than Ben Clarke when he was asked whether he would be out to put his Bath club-mate, Scotland's No 8 Eric Peters, in his place. "He's already in his place" Clarke said. "Playing for Bath 2nds."

At the press conference, though, the mood was mostly one of frustration - not least from journalists attempting to get Carling to be more specific about his economical comments. "There was a lot of frustration out there," Carling said. Such as? "I can't think quickly enough now," he said. "Maybe I can tell you in three or four days' time."

Readers of Carling's Sunday newspaper column, however, did not have to wait quite so long, which may have explained his temporary loss of memory when invited to enlighten a wider audience. No point in rendering the column old hat by spouting off before publication, which made it a wonder, given the fact that nearly all the England players are contracted to newspapers, that anyone said anything at all.

Carling's frustration was largely down to the fact that England did not win with any great lan, which in turn accounted for the muted celebrations. If it was a bit rich for Brian Moore to snort that the Scots had been unreasonably churlish not to allow the Underwoods to garnish the Grand Slam with an avalanche of tries, the England hooker was correct to sympathise with the spectators. Some people, apparently, paid around £750 to watch Rob Andrew hoofing over penalty kicks.

When Rowell was invited at the press conference to ponder on whether the game was a poor advertisement for England's World Cup chances, Carling gazed stonily at a side wall, doubtless attempting to conjure up pictures of the journalist's posterior on the end of Andrew's boot.

"Will the southern hemisphere sides feel encouraged after watching that?" Rowell's tormentor persisted, which set the manager's eyeballs rolling more robotically than any England maul. Then, when Rowell was invited to opine on Moore's comments about Scottish off-side tactics, Rowell had the novel idea of deciding to ask the questions himself. "What do you think?" he said, "come on, you tell me," in a way which made it difficult to believe that he was a million miles away from Moore's views on the subject.

While Rowell and Carling might have felt it was bit much, in the immediate aftermath of a grand slam, to be asked, in effect, whether there was any point in England bothering to turn up to the World Cup, it was a long way from being the daftest question ever asked at a press conference.

A now-retired tennis player, who so detested press conferences that he preferred to get fined rather than attend them, suffered the final straw when he was asked during Wimbledon: "I know you think we ask stupid questions, but if you could ask yourself one question, what would it be?" "That," came the reply, "is the most stupid question I've ever heard."

It is entirely possible that the reason Rowell became irritable at the question of where England now stand in global terms was probably because he had already asked it of himself - and was a little less certain of the answer than he had been 80 minutes earlier.