Rugby Union: A week when the truth was hard to take

Chris Rea says Clive Woodward could have done with the services of a Yates
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The Independent Online
IF ENGLISH rugby is reluctant to look the world in the face at the moment it is hardly surprising. It has been a ghastly week. There is little left to say about the Kevin Yates affair save the observation that it has highlighted the problems the game is having in reconciling the old with the new. However misguided those sitting in judgement on Yates were in sentencing him to just six months, no one could fault them for their diligence in this thankless task. They were determined to see fair play in what has been a foul business yet few believe that the punishment comes anywhere near to matching the crime.

Then there was the part played by Yates's team-mates at Bath. The comradeship and close-knit togetherness so essential in the bonding and binding of rugby teams has, in this instance, been carried into the realms of perjury. A virtue has become a vice and if Yates himself, as he so earnestly and steadfastly maintains, is telling the truth then the only avenue open to him is to unmask the true culprit. What is indisputable in this sorry episode is that someone is lying through the very same teeth which shredded Simon Fenn's ear. If it is not Yates and he has out of a sense of misplaced loyalty been protecting the culprit, he has no option but to spill the beans.

Silence now and Yates is damned. And no matter how unblemished his record may be in the future, his reputation will be indelibly stained by this atrocity. Clive Woodward, the England coach, though seeming to offer him a way back at the end of his period of exile, chose his words very carefully and committed himself to nothing beyond the hope that Yates will return to the game. It is very possible that this young man's rugby career will not survive that split second of utter madness.

He could reasonably have expected to win his place in the national side before the end of the season which, in England's case, extends until mid- summer. Indeed, following the manner of their defeat in Paris last weekend the likelihood was that he would have been playing against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday.

The longer that game went on against France the clearer it was that the man the All Blacks missed most in the drawn match at Twickenham before Christmas was not the captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, but their loosehead prop, Craig Dowd. The All Blacks' failure fully to expose their opponents' frailties in the front row on that occasion gave England a false sense of security about their scrummage and concealed their problems further back.

With three players in the back row all of whom have played at one time or another as specialist open side flankers, England were gravely unbalanced in Paris.

Who played at No 8? Was it Richard Hill or was it Lawrence Dallaglio, who for most of the time appeared to be interchangeable? Neither did the job required of them for the simple reason that neither knew what that job was. But if England cannot provide a solid foundation in the front row the combination of the back three is almost an irrelevance.

Woodward has made a great deal of sense since his appointment as national coach but his assertion in advance of the French game that Mike Catt's versatility qualified him to play in the highly specialist position of full-back was well off target. Catt's versatility may enable him to play in a variety of positions for Bath but certainly not for England.

There is only one position open to Catt in the national side and that is at centre where he should now be picked in place of Will Greenwood who, sadly, appears to have fallen prey to that most pernicious of ailments, ECD - or to give its full title England Centre Disorder. Like so many of his predecessors, Greenwood has become typecast as the team juggernaut. Hit the wall, knock out a couple of bricks and stay on your feet but for God's sake don't go trying anything clever.

It has destroyed more promising young talent than I care to remember and Greenwood, if he is not careful, is going to end up as just another sad statistic among England centres who were treated as cannon fodder before being carried, already broken in body and spirit, to the knackers yard. Christophe Lamaison is a bulky fellow well able to stand on his own two feet but the way the French deployed their midfield backs was light years ahead of England's predictable and outmoded patterns of running. Greenwood should have a quiet word with Stuart Potter, his co-centre at Leicester, who this season is much more lateral in thought and movement and as a consequence is playing the best rugby of his career.

There has been genuine amazement in the wake of the French display last Saturday that a side so savagely altered in personnel from the one that lost to South Africa a few short weeks ago could perform to such exacting standards. Their strength in depth is awesome. But here is a team from English Premiership clubs which I would back to beat any French combination: M Lynagh (Saracens); I Evans (Bath), A Bateman (Richmond), G Townsend (Northampton), V Tuigamala (Newcastle); J Stransky (Leicester), G Armstrong (Newcastle); P Wallace (Saracens), K Wood (Harlequins), G Pagel (Northampton), D Weir (Newcastle), F van Heerden (Leicester), F Pienaar (Saracens, captain), E Miller (Leicester), D Lyle (Bath).

Now why do you think that the French, for all their enviable resources, cannot come up with a side like this? Could this, I wonder, explain England's present problems?