Rugby Union: Dallaglio tackles the foreign legion

Tim Glover hears former captain claim imported players are harming England
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The Independent Online
WHEN THE World Cup ended for Lawrence Dallaglio, he was on England's right wing, beneath a high ball from Jannie de Beer which bounced about 90 degrees and into the arms of Pieter Rossouw who dived over the line. Game, set and Paris match to South Africa, while England retreated to Waterloo Station, their Eurostar in decline.

De Beer, of course, had already kicked England off the world stage with five drop goals, prompting the question: where were the English back row and why did at least one of them not leave a calling card? Answer: "De Beer was standing so far back in the pocket we couldn't get anywhere near him," Dallaglio said.

Last season De Beer was playing for the now defunct London Scottish - he is still owed two months' wages - and in a World Cup retrospective Dallaglio is scathing about the intrusion into England of overseas players. "Because of the structure of the game the England coach is skiing uphill," Dallaglio said. "The standard of club rugby is getting better, but unfortunately the position of the England coach is undermined by the ever-increasing number of foreign players. Someone somewhere has to change that situation. It's no coincidence that the southern hemisphere has won all four World Cups.

"If I wanted to play Super 12 rugby for a New Zealand side, the first thing I'd have to do is make myself eligible for that country. Everything is geared to the success of the national team. The only thing they care about is getting the best 15 on the field. Do we want a multi- cultural domestic product or a successful national side? We can't have both.

"It's very frustrating for the England coach. With the odd exception, if he was watching a Premiership match, of the 30-odd players in action no more than 10 would be eligible for England. We are caught between two stools and anyone who denies that is not telling the truth."

The Wasps captain - the London club has a policy of developing home- grown talent although not every member of their squad wears a red rose on their sleeve - was also critical of England's pre-World Cup programme, which had matches against the US, Canada and the Premiership All Stars.

"The warm-up games didn't have the intensity required to prepare us for the next step," said Dallaglio, who today leads Wasps against Llanelli in the European Cup at Loftus Road. "When the pressure came on we weren't able to respond in the right way. We should have done things differently."

In their defeats by the All Blacks and the Springboks, England conceded 74 points and scored one try. "We didn't take the points on offer against New Zealand," Dallaglio said. "We controlled a large part of the game and had a phenomenal amount of possession but were unable to break down the All Blacks. We attacked them in the wrong areas. There were holes in their defence, as France showed.

"Against South Africa we didn't grasp the game plan and the drop goals came out of nowhere. The fact that we had a hard match against Fiji in midweek made it more difficult. None of the teams in the play-offs went on to win a quarter-final. It's not an excuse, just one of a number of reasons for England's early exit.

"You have to credit South Africa's defence, which was superb against us, and again against Australia in the semis, but our performance in France was poor. We lost the tactical kicking battle and made enough mistakes to give the Boks territory and field position. They took control at a very crucial time in the second half and we found it difficult to bring our strength into play. We genuinely believed we had a fantastic opportunity, but a lot of the potential was never realised. There was so much more in that team."

Again Dallaglio points to the pointlessness of England's one-sided matches in the build-up to the Cup. "I would argue that because of the nature of our preparation we were able to get away with things that we could not get away with against New Zealand and South Africa. We didn't need to use a tactical kicking game in the warm-up matches and when we were asked to use it we came unstuck. That's not to say we didn't possess the tactical kicking game. In Jonny Wilkinson we have one of the best in the world."

Wilkinson, however, was replaced 10 minutes from the end against the All Blacks and Paul Grayson was preferred against the Springboks. "It was the coach's decision and as a player I couldn't argue with that," Dallaglio said.

Others have, but it is noticeable that at every turn Dallaglio, not surprisingly, is supportive of Clive Woodward. "Clive's right to see out his contract. Chopping and changing is not the answer. We need continuity. He shared in our disappointment and we have to hold our hands up and share in the blame."

Three months ago Woodward was Dallaglio's staunchest ally when the former England captain was at the centre of a sex, lies, videos, drugs and drinks scandal after being caught in an elaborate trap by undercover reporters. Although Dallaglio lost the captaincy - arguably another reason why England under-performed - he was cleared on all counts, bar bringing the game into disrepute. Represented at a Twickenham hearing by George Carman QC, at present appearing for Mohamed Al Fayed in the High Court, he was ordered to pay pounds 25,000. It's champagne under the bridge.

"It was not expected, but these things happen," Dallaglio said. "It was a very difficult time for myself, my family and my England colleagues. It's a fantastic privilege captaining England, but it wouldn't have been right to continue. I was happy to focus on the World Cup and I was able to peak for that."

Three days ago, within 50 yards of the Springbok pub, he sprayed champagne on the pitch at Loftus Road after being named the Premiership player of the World Cup. There were not that many outstanding candidates.

"Maybe the European Cup will be the perfect tonic," Dallaglio said. "It should have the intensity and skill level to narrow the gap between club and international rugby. It takes something special to win trophies and it will take something extra special to win the European Cup." Sure, but England and Dallaglio are still coming to terms with their failure to lay a finger on the biggest prize of all, the Webb Ellis Trophy.

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