Rowell's southern discomfort

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The Independent Online
If ever the phrase "After the Lord Mayor's Show" fitted a sporting event, then Saturday's international between Australia and England in Sydney is tailor-made. The Ashes it ain't, nor the Lions, but the fixture is there in black and white, and, according to England's manager Jack Rowell, it is here to stay. "This match hasn't really come at the best time," he admitted. "My understanding, though, is that it's the beginning of a home-and-away series against Australia each year, so it's probably best we get into it now because I've always said we needed to play more in the Southern Hemisphere.

"It's going to be a big challenge to knit the players together. We got here on Friday but more than half our party [the Lions] won't be arriving until Tuesday night and I have no idea what state they'll be in.

"The Lions have followed a long season in England last winter with another long stint in South Africa. They'll certainly be match fit but there's an obvious danger they could suffer a psychological let-down. That's not to say they won't be looking to do their best for England, but it's a shame we've had no opportunity to prepare properly."

Several leading names have already been eliminated from his calculations because of retirement (Will Carling), injury (Martin Johnson, Will Greenwood and Jason Leonard) or family reasons (Jeremy Guscott). Despite these withdrawals, though, 16 Englishmen will wing their way to Sydney on Tuesday at the end of what has been one of the great Lions tours and a massive PR exercise on behalf of British rugby.

Rowell, for one, applauds the rugby played by Fran Cotton's squad and does not expect any assimilation problems once the Lions become English again. "Last season we put a new team together playing in a new style. If you look at how England played in the Five Nations it's the same that we've seen on the Lions tour, so there should be no problems with them picking up our style or tactics. The Lions have been able to play that way in the non-internationals especially, but it has obviously been tighter in the big Tests because the players don't get the same amount of time or space."

Little of either can be expected on Saturday against an Australian line- up whose two recent Test victories over the Five Nations Champions, France, were only slightly devalued by yesterday's defeat in New Zealand.

But even for the sorest of English limbs, pride should count for something. While his first team, so to speak, were away in South Africa, Rowell took the rump of England's squad to Argentina where the First Test was won with considerable aplomb before the departure to the Lions of Mike Catt and Nigel Redman presaged a heavy defeat in the Second Test. "I thought the Argentina tour went successfully considering we had what amounted to England's second and third team," said Rowell. "Everyone did very well both on and off the field. Players like Tony Diprose, Nick Greenstock and Richard Cockerill came through strongly. The Second Test was disappointing but at least it gave Alex King and Mark Mapletoft the chance to learn something about international rugby."