Rugby Union: Cooke and Carling wax lyrical

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND experienced a conversion down Wembley Way yesterday when they followed in the footsteps of Gazza and company. Twickenham it ain't. The rugby players are accustomed to grass and plenty of it. Instead they found a surface as shorn as David Batty's head. They also found Will Carling selling a dummy.

The England captain unveiled a waxwork model of himself, the latest addition to Madame Tussaud's. Carling is the first rugby player to get the wax treatment and he will unblinkingly share the spotlight with Ian Botham, Lester Piggott, Nick Faldo, Peter Shilton and Paul Gascoigne. 'It was a bit of a shock,' Carling said. So was the choice of venue for the unveiling. When Jeff Probyn attempted to punt a ball at Carling's effigy he miscued (as a prop forward would) and hit a PR lady on the head instead. It would never have happened at Twickers.

Despite the fact that Geoff Cooke, the England manager, has been somewhat more successful than Graham Taylor, the Grand Slam champions versus Canada at Wembley Stadium tomorrow will probably attract considerably fewer numbers through the turnstiles than England's World Cup match against Norway on Wednesday night.

Work is in progress at Twickenham and the timing of the switch is unfortunate. Most matches England play at Twickenham are massively over-subscribed and, against more recognisable opponents, the RFU would have had no trouble in filling Wembley. 'If the ground's more than half full it will make it a lot more interesting,' Cooke said. 'There's an aura about the place. It will be different and the atmosphere will be unreal.'

Cooke's tour of Wembley was typical of the thoroughness of his preparation. He attended a coaching seminar in Canada in the summer and has spent the last three weeks studying video tapes of Canada's plausible performances in the World Cup last year. In addition he consulted Alan Old, the former England fly-half, who recently took a team from Northumberland to Canada.

'We are not only expected to win but we are expected to perform well,' Cooke said. In terms of preparation Canada, he said, were at a great disadvantage. Since the World Cup they have had one match, against the United States. 'We have had the Five Nations' Championship, a B tour to New Zealand and competitive league matches. Our biggest problem is complacency.'

That and the new laws. 'We struggled to come to terms with the changes early in the season,' Cooke said, 'but we should have no excuses if things go wrong. I thought the last round of league matches was a watershed. We saw some good rugby and some good games and the players are now really switched on.'

Cooke's ambition, of course, is another Grand Slam. But first there's Canada and then South Africa. 'I want six wins from six matches,' he said. 'It will be even more difficult because everyone is after us. We have got to get everything absolutely right. That is why the game against Canada is so important to us.'

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