Rugby Union: Carling experiences dramatic rejuvenation

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Wind out of the sails stuff. A record score against Scotland, handsome tries; never mind the first hour think about what happened afterwards.

Before a question could be as asked of him, Jack Rowell was on the front foot; being first, as they say in boxing. Hard games last week, so hard that when the squad assembled England's physio could not recall international players looking more shattered. "When you take everything into account, they did very well," Rowell said.

It has been a tough time for the England coach. An unhappy performance against Argentina, sniping from former England coaches, Geoff Cooke and Dick Best. Rumours, speculation. And doubt. Always doubt. Where was the expansive game, the interactive rugby Rowell goes on about?

With 65 minutes played it looked as though Rowell was in for another grilling. England were ahead but their supporters had grown restive, wanting more for their money than forward domination. Then the explosion. Andy Gomarsall crossed for a try, Paul Grayson converted and, from the platform of a 16-point cushion, England ran riot.

Now they looked a real force, picking up on options before the ball came to hand, expanding their lines of running. Put that in your pipe, you could imagine Rowell thinking. But keep the head, don't go in for gloating. "We finally put on the playing field some of the things we work on in training," Rowell said. "It took us a while, two-thirds of the game, but when it came together we cut loose. This is a young team, 10 changes from the World Cup, and things don't happen overnight."

Walking to the station afterwards I overheard a conversation between two England supporters. "I don't think we can read too much into that," one of them said. "If Australia, New Zealand or South Africa had been out there it would have been a damned sight different." The impression put forward by his companion was that for most of the game Scotland had played the more enterprising rugby.

A difficulty for Rowell is that many in Twickenham's modern audience - whether corporate guests or patriots following any England cause- do not appear to have much idea about what is going on out there. Indeed of all the gatherings in rugby it is difficult to think of one so obnoxious. Rugby's laws grow ever more complex but fundamental infringements ought to be apparent.

This said, there has to be some sympathy for the puzzlement Scotland's manager, Arthur Hastie, expressed over decisions arrived at by the New Zealand referee, Paddy O'Brien. "I cannot dictate how a game will be played but I do like playing advantage and, if the players want to play rugby, I am all for a flowing game," O'Brien remarked in the match programme.

If commendably firm on just about everything, O'Brien was harsh on the Scots when they were at their most dangerous, refusing what television suggested was a perfectly good score by Rob Wainwright and then awarding England a dubious penalty try. But for those incidents would England have gained the confidence to overrun the Scots?

In any case, the Scots took a hammering. "We were well in touch at half- time, and with the breeze in our favour I thought we might be able to benefit from some good possession," Wainwright said. It was a forlorn hope. England simply got better, growing in stature, making the progress of which Rowell felt they were capable.

Will Carling's contribution was, to say the least, interesting. In the first half his prevarication over the Lions tour looked eminently sensible. Twice he had squandered opportunities to put colleagues away. There was a great deal of head shaking. Then we saw the old Carling, dynamic breaks tearing down what was left of Scotland's defences and eventually scoring one of England's tries. A player in dramatic rejuvenation.

For Rowell and England's captain, Phil de Glanville, it must have been fun to confront the usual assembly of interrogators. "The team can now relax," De Glanville smiled.

As for the crowd, a great roar greeted the news that Wales had lost to Ireland in Cardiff. What gets into these people? What makes so many of them so insufferable?