Rugby Union: Dallaglio has to learn art of diplomacy

Tim Glover finds the England captain behaving misguidedly
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ENGLAND have a large number of back-room specialists administering to every need of the modern team. The one thing they don't appear to have is a spin doctor. In most respects Lawrence Dallaglio is a splendid captain and one of the most complete back row forwards in world rugby, but his comments about the Five Nations' Championship on the eve of Ireland's visit were ill-judged and ill-timed.

"It's for other people to judge what a Triple Crown may or may not mean but as far as I'm concerned, England have won Slams and Crowns before", Dallaglio said. "This team is looking to achieve new things, things that no English side has ever managed. Our only objective is to regularly compete with the major forces in world rugby and that means surviving and thriving against the southern hemisphere nations.

"I'd be lying if I said there was no distinction between the pace and intensity of our matches against the southern hemisphere teams before Christmas and the Five Nations games we have played since. Playing rugby at Five Nations pace is not the way to compete at the very top level."

This is a bit rich coming from a player whose club, Wasps, recently outplayed by London Irish, have found it difficult to survive in the English Premiership this season.

When Ireland travelled to Paris as no-hopers, Warren Gatland, their new coach, plastered the walls of their hotel with faxed messages of support. When Jack Nicklaus was written off as an overweight 40-something before the 1986 Masters, he taped the offending article to his fridge door and proceeded to tear Augusta National apart. If Ireland needed an extra incentive to tear in to England, Dallaglio's views would have done nicely.

Ireland's weakness is that they are good for three-quarters of a match but a spent force in the final quarter, yet they had the better of the second half against England despite the fact that both sides scored 10 points apiece after the interval. But for Paul Wallace, an integral part of an extremely tight pack, failing to ground the ball over the line, it could have been uncomfortably close for England. In the first half the English spent 25 minutes in Ireland's territory; in the second it was reduced to 12 minutes.

This season the luck of the Irish has become a sick joke. Narrow defeats to Scotland, Wales and that heart-breaking loss in France when glory seemed to beckon, with England completing the whitewash, condemned them once again to the wooden shillelagh.

For England of course, a deserved fourth successive Triple Crown, although Dallaglio might consider it more of a coronet, or even, given his Italian ancestry, just one cornetto. He shouldn't knock it. Familiarity with success seems to have bred a contemptible attitude in England, from their unilateral attempt to flog off the Five Nations to the highest television bidder, to Dallaglio's belittling of a championship that a few years ago was the envy of the southern hemisphere.

On Saturday Clive Woodward, England's enlightened coach, was so incensed at what he perceived as Ireland's over-the-top rucking, that he left his seat in the stand to remonstrate with a touch judge and then there was the apparent snub by Dallaglio of his opposite number, the belligerent David Corkery, in refusing to shake hands. Such behaviour in Auckland or Johannesburg or Sydney would be laughed out of court.

In England's defence, they have staged a largely successful campaign (only compromised by an off day in Paris and a couple of strange selections) under the handicap of Twickenham's civil war which appeared to come to a head on Saturday evening with the marginalising of Cliff Brittle, in impending negotiations, and the resignation of his staunchest ally, Fran Cotton.

The conflict between country and clubs seemed destined to end in the courtroom, but with Cotton apparently out of the picture there may be no need for the silk.