Jack Rowell yesterday had to endure yet another shambolic attempt at an England training session in preparation for the Test against South Africa, the World Cup holders, at Twickenham on 18 November. The team, not forgetting the captain, will be named on Wednesday.
A dozen players, including Will Carling, were missing from this extra practice at Marlow, though at least Andy Robinson made it from the West Country to Buckinghamshire in one piece. He had been belatedly added to the squad in recognition of his prodigious form in the Bath back row.
England are paying a fearful price for the long run of First Division fixtures with which the season has started. "People are in pieces; it's hopeless," the manager said. "This is very poor preparation for a task as great as the one we are facing. People are knackered."
With both Mike Catt and David Pears among the injured, Rowell had to use Les Cusworth, the assistant coach, as his outside-half when the remnants of the squad engaged in some unopposed rugby.
Cusworth, of course, had the distinction of being a Leicester and England player, but not for the past five years since he retired.
Robinson's call-up makes him favourite to win a place in the back row against the Springboks. Rory Jenkins having been among those discarded, Rowell accepts it is now a straight choice at open side between his new addition and Neil Back.
Robinson, 31, won the last of his seven caps in 1989, when he was British rugby's player of the year, but since making the Lions tour to Australia that summer when plainly unfit has been out of favour.
"He went into the doldrums a bit and got into the habit of giving away too many penalties, but we worked on that and he improved," Rowell said yesterday. The manager should know, since it was Rowell himself, when coach of Bath, who wrought the change.
England will train again at Marlow tomorrow, this time in private, when - always supposing enough players are well enough - the session will include a practice match against a London divisional team.
Details of contracts for the chosen 21, which are now said to be worth a disappointing pounds 30,000 a season instead of the original pounds 40,000, will also be revealed.