Rowell's central conundrum

Chris Rea says de Glanville settles one problem but causes another
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The Independent Online
Talk about over-egging the pudding - the announcement of England's new captain last week was closer to Blind Date than a press conference. But a canny lad is wor Jackie Rowell. We all know that his idea of a comfort zone is a barefoot walk across a crocodile pit on a barbed wire, and that he takes perverse pleasure in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty. But his delaying antics in spilling the beans on the England captaincy have been bizarre even by his standards.

Once again he has displayed his infinite capacity to surprise. Having laid a false scent, how he must have enjoyed the sight of the media pack barking up so many wrong trees for such a long time. It was almost as if the appointment of Phil de Glanville as captain followed by the selection of Will Carling for the match against Italy in a fortnight's time were done for no other reason but to shock. Another of Jack's curious little games.

His reason for delaying the announcement of the captain on the grounds that the running battle between the clubs and the Rugby Football Union would place the new man in an invidious position has little logic given that there is no end yet to the administrative hostilities. So why wait this long for the over-staged unveiling ceremony?

De Glanville's response to the inevitable question on the rift was no different last week to the one he would have given two months ago and was in line with the reaction of any current player - for God's sake let the two sides come to some kind of agreement so that we can get on with our job of playing rugby. End of story. That is the bottom line so far as the players are concerned. Quite naturally they are concerned only with those aspects of the game which affect them. That is why their views on weightier matters concerning the wider and more far-reaching interests of rugby union are of strictly limited value. The players do not have to be held accountable for what happens in the future. Nor do they have the onerous responsibility of protecting the weak as well as curbing the strong. The media know this, so does Rowell, so why bother with this absurd charade. In many respects de Glanville is an excellent choice. Intelligent, articulate, presentable and, above all, tactically sound, he fits the bill as England's captain. Those who suggest that the modern leader has nothing to do on the pitch but exhort, cajole and bully a performance from his players, simply do not know their rugby.

The critics are on much stronger ground, however, in questioning de Glanville's ability to hold his place in the side on playing merit alone. Taken strictly on form it is doubtful if de Glanville would make the Bath side let alone England. Carling and Jeremy Guscott are the form horses and as such could reasonably have expected to be playing alongside each other. Until last Thursday that is. Yet there is a historical precedent of sorts.

There were many more obviously gifted centres than John Dawes in the late Sixties and early Seventies, but throughout those golden years the Welsh threequarter line would have been a much poorer place without him as would that matchless Lions back division in 1971. It was Dawes's unfailing ability to deliver the right ball in the right place at the right time, his organisational skills, his unerring accuracy in the tackle and, of course, the qualities of leadershipwhich made him such an asset.

De Glanville may not have all Dawes' talents but he does have some of them and it is not so much in his selection that Rowell appears to have got it wrong as in pairing him with Carling. Both are more comfortable operating alongside and close to the fly-half than the wing. In different ways both are makers of chances rather than takers and by selecting Mike Catt at fly-half, Rowell will be hoping that there will be at least as many chances to take as there will be to make.

I cannot help feeling that Catt is nothing more than a temporary filler at fly-half until such time as a genuine article like Alex King comes to full maturity. Catt is a marvellously instinctive and exuberant player who must not be lost to England. But he is no more an international fly- half than he is a full-back. He is, in this observer's view, a centre with the potential to become the best in the world in that position.

Rowell's problem to which he himself has contributed mightily by de Glanville's appointment, is one of serious congestion in that part of the field. It is true that Catt has produced some devastating performances for Bath at fly-half this season but in pressure situations he has also been guilty of serious aberration. He will, in all likelihood, get away with murder against the Italians but the true test will come later. In the try-fest that was Bath versus Wasps earlier in the season and which was hailed by the uninitiated as being the mother of all spectacles but was nothing more than a series of unrelated, albeit at times, dazzling cameos, Catt ran his heart out. Yet the seminal moments were provided by King whose vision and composure stood aristocratically above the garish extravagance of rugby's new age.

If England's back line lacks the necessary balance then so does the back row which appears to be a throwback to the past when rebuilding from the front was more important than recycling to the backs. With the new laws committing flankers to the fringes for those extra vital fractions and with specialist open sides, like the incomparable New Zealander Michael Jones, making new lives for themselves on the blind side, acceleration and agility is more important than upright force.

Individually England's back-row triumvirate are fine players and against Harlequins this season Tim Rodber gave a towering display, but only Lawrence Dallaglio is equipped with a combination of the strengths necessary for the modern game. In a fortnight's time, though, the sledgehammer should be enough to crack the nut.