Rugby Union: Dallaglio keeps focus on the world stage

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The Independent Online
GRAND SLAMS and Triple Crowns may have exercised the imaginations of great England sides of the past, but the current national captain's horizons extend a good deal further than the unfulfilling confines of European rugby. Judging by his forthright comments yesterday, Lawrence Dallaglio is not remotely sure that the completion of a fourth successive Crown against the Irish at Twickenham tomorrow would be an achievement worthy of celebration.

Defeat by a half-baked Irish side teetering dangerously on the rim of a large pot of whitewash would wound Dallaglio more than anyone, if only because he has to answer for his ambitious team's occasional blips and blunders. But deep down, he regards much of the rugby played in the Five Nations as prehistoric and the Irish, in particular, as dangerous but ultimately unsophisticated dinosaurs.

"It's for other people to judge what a Triple Crown may or may not mean but as far as I'm concerned, England sides have won Slams and Crowns before," he 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 want to beat Ireland of course, but I want us to win in a style that suggests we can stack up against the best.

"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. The emphasis down south is on positive rugby and we're going to learn a lot about ourselves when we go to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa this summer. The Five Nations is different and in my view, playing rugby at Five Nations pace is not the way to compete at the very top level."

Dallaglio acknowledged that "two different games" were now in progress on either side of the equator and focused much of his attention on the vast discrepancies in refereeing interpretations. "I don't mean this as a criticism of the referees concerned, but England against Wales under Colin Hawke [a New Zealander] had little in common with England against Scotland under Clayton Thomas [a Welshman]. It's a situation a team has to come to terms with if it wants to develop and it will be particularly important come the World Cup, when referees of differing styles are involved in the same tournament."

Another Welshman, Derek Bevan, will control tomorrow's match and his views on what is and is not permissible, particularly at the set-piece and the breakdown, may well dictate the quality of the English performance. "No player in this squad even thinks about getting involved in an old- fashioned dog-fight," Dallaglio insisted, but he knows better than most that if the Irish receive an inch of latitude from the man with the whistle, they will help themselves to a further mile's worth.

"The Irish seem to be functioning better away from home than they do at Lansdowne Road and they've drawn considerable confidence from Warren Gatland's appointment as coach," the captain said. "They'll be strong in the scrummage, which is an area of huge influence in all internationals these days; both Keith Wood and Paul Wallace forced places in the Lions Test front row last summer and as a result, they will not feel inhibited or overawed by the perceived power of the English pack.

"But we've made a good deal of progress in certain areas since drawing with Australia and New Zealand before Christmas and while no side gets things all its own way and attacks for 80 minutes in Test rugby, we'll be looking to do everything at the pace that suits us. And that pace will be high, I promise you."