Rugby Union: Carling addresses Irish question

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Never mind the ultra-positive strategy of which we have heard so much, if we are to believe Will Carling it is fear of failure that will be the most powerful motivation for his England when they play Ireland at Lansdowne Road tomorrow.

The team arrived in Dublin yesterday after going into purdah for their training session at the Bank of England ground, Roehampton, with Carling trying to persuade us that England would be underdogs. In fact London bookmakers anticipate an England win by 11 points.

The failure which England fear has as much to do with the World Cup - places would be in jeopardy should Ireland beat them for a third consecutive time - as with the recent Irish habit of giving the English a hard time. In rugby, England have not solved the Irish question since 1992.

"Only Ireland and Australia have beaten England twice on the run since I've been captain," Carling said. As he has been captain since 1988, that is a formidable record. "After losing to Ireland at Twickenham last year and in Dublin in 1993 I sincerely hope we have been hurt enough to produce a very good performance this time.

"In 1993 there were reasons. It was the last match of the season and there was no Grand Slam to go for, and the Lions team for New Zealand was about to be chosen, so perhaps we weren't focused. That won't be the case this time. We are entering the most important six months in the lives of almost all the players."

The notion that, in order to perform, England need to be going for a Grand Slam - or a World Cup - does not say much for their chances against France, Wales and Scotland if they happen to lose to Ireland. On the other hand, it tallies with Carling's desire for England to buck the British sporting trend by being perennial winners.

There is no doubt about who are favourites in Paris. Wales - Five Nations champions but still underdogs - yesterday lost Wayne Proctor to a chest infection and promoted Simon Hill from their A-team to take the place on the right wing of which Proctor, too, had only temporary tenure, for the injured Ieuan Evans.

The Canadian management yesterday included Gordon MacKinnon in their team to play Scotland at Murrayfield tomorrow even though the Scottish-born flanker was dropped from the squad as a disciplinary measure after last month's tour in England and France. The Canadian Rugby Union intervened to have MacKinnon reinstated.

n Sean Fitzpatrick, New Zealand's captain since 1991, has been appointed to lead the All Blacks in the World Cup.

CANADA (v Scotland, Murrayfield, tomorrow): S Stewart (University of British Columbia Old Boys); W Stanley (University of British Columbia), C Stewart (Rovigo), S Gray (Kats), R Toews (Meraloma); G Rees (Newport, capt), J Graf (UBC OB); E Evans (IBM Tokyo), M Cardinal (James Bay), D Jackart (UBC OB), M James (Burnaby Lake), K Whitley (Calgary Irish), I Gordon (James Bay), C McKenzie (UBC OB), G MacKinnon (Ex-Britannia Lions). Replacements: R Ross (James Bay), I MacKay, P LeBlanc (Kats), K Svobo da (AjaxWanderers), J Hutchinson (UBC OB) B Breen (Meraloma).

Five Nations countdown, page 38