Rugby Union: Adventure is the battle cry for Dallaglio

Rugby Union: The England captain looks for an improved performance against the strength of the Wallabies
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The Independent Online
LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO wants England to play "multi-phase rugby" against Australia at Twickenham tomorrow. While his team did precisely that at Huddersfield last weekend - one phase in the first half, another in the second - the returning captain clearly has something more adventurous in mind. The performance against Italy, which very nearly degenerated into defeat, was both conservative in conception and cumbersome in execution and it is worrying that England should be so dependant on a single loose forward to inject some zip into their game plan.

Still, Dallaglio's recovery from the knee injury that sidelined him throughout the brief World Cup qualifying tournament at least gives England an even- money chance of playing at the required tempo. "I firmly believe it is within our capabilities to match the pace and intensity the Wallabies are sure to bring to the party, but we're not accustomed to playing at that level and we know we're about to be tested to the limit," said the Wasps flanker yesterday. "We're well aware of the enormity of the task but the real pressure comes from within the squad. As a team we expect to do better than against Italy."

It would be quite an achievement to play any worse and Dallaglio knows that on current evidence England cannot be described as credible challengers for next year's World Cup. "We're fifth or sixth favourites at best for that tournament," he said bluntly. "I'm not changing my opinion on the subject until our results suggest otherwise."

A victory tomorrow would do just that, but the Wallabies are hugely motivated for the last act of an exhausting campaign that has covered Super 12, Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup rugby, as well as World Cup qualifying business against the big-hit specialists from Western Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.

"Of course we could do with a rest," agreed Rod Macqueen, their coach. "But England at Twickenham is a big number for any rugby team. We're right up for this one, I promise you."

So up for it that Bob Dwyer, a celebrated predecessor of Macqueen's who coached Nick Farr-Jones' vintage outfit to World Cup glory over England at Twickenham in 1991, believes his countrymen will register a comfortable victory, albeit narrower than the 76-0 shellacking in Brisbane last June. "Australia will have too much pace, power and precision for England, particularly in the backs," said Dwyer.

"From England's viewpoint, this is a game they really have to win, or at least get close to winning, because Australia are at the end of a very long season and have travelled without some top players. Having said that, though, I watched the Wallabies train on Wednesday and they are looking better than South Africa. England are going to have to make all their tackles, that's for sure."

Whatever unfolds, English rugby will not descend to the bottom of the European pile. The Scots have beaten them to it, thanks to the continuing political turmoil enveloping the hierarchy at Murrayfield. Andy Irvine and John Jeffrey were close to severing their links with the governing body yesterday, the former by giving up the chairmanship of the International Game Board and the latter by stepping down as a selector and district representative.

Duncan Paterson, whose presidency of the Scottish Rugby Union has met with almost universal condemnation over the last fortnight, announced on Wednesday night that, while he intended to step down, he would do so only at the "appropriate time". His enthusiasm for the super-district initiative, under which all leading home-based players were contracted to either Glasgow Caledonians or Edinburgh Reivers, has left large numbers of former internationals mourning what they consider to be the collapse of the domestic game north of the border.

Not that the English are free of domestic problems. The refusal of the leading Premiership clubs to release players for the Hong Kong Sevens in March has forced the Rugby Football Union into declining the organisers' invitation to send a national team to the most famous short-game tournament in the calendar.