Rugby Union: Dallaglio the deliverer

England 92 Premiership All-Stars 17
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LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO'S punishment for bringing the game into disrepute was a pounds 25,000 fine and loss of the England captaincy. Neither will hurt him, particularly the latter. What was noticeable from last night's latest mismatch at Twickenham was that the Wasps captain is still calling many of the shots.

Officially, Martin Johnson is the captain, but Dallaglio's input is as vociferous and as regular. If anything, the drugs scandal that wasn't seems to have transformed Dallaglio from an outstanding player into somebody who has something to prove, and that makes him even more dangerous. When England are winning by such overwhelming margins, critical analysis is not that straightforward, but by almost any criteria, Dallaglio is playing like a man possessed. Last night he looked in a class of his own, even if the school was half-closed.

In several respects the World Cup preparation has gone well. England appear to have avoided any serious injuries and the coach, Clive Woodward, has settled on the team that will open the campaign against Italy at Twickenham in two weeks' time. Jeremy Guscott was absent yesterday, but he will almost certainly face the Italians, which means that Phil de Glanville or Will Greenwood will not be one of the centres of attention.

In other areas, the warm-up matches have missed the target. Canada apart, the quality of the opposition has been extremely disappointing. The last thing England wanted was a defeat (not much danger of that) but nor can it be truly beneficial for next month's heavy-metal encounters to score almost at will against demoralised and dysfunctional outfits.

Perhaps the worst thing of all though, has been the inept staging of these matches by the Rugby Football Union. There were fewer than 15,000 at Twickenham on a warm, sunny evening to see the United States concede more than 100 points last month, but despite the warning from the public, the ruling body have stubbornly soldiered on with night matches. Yesterday the crowd was estimated at 20,000 after the RFU took out advertisements on television. It has been a chastening Twickenham experience. Cornwall, parading a giant pasty around headquarters, draw more people to the ground for the County Championship.

Furthermore, the start-stop nature of the Allied Dunbar Premiership season, which has driven the clubs up the wall, if not to the wall, was maintained by the decision to field Premiership XVs against England.

Yesterday's All-Stars were all finished by the interval. Despite the optimistic comments of their coach, Zinzan Brooke - we'll give England a good run, etc - it was no real contest. England did have a good run, scoring 13 tries to three, with Jonny Wilkinson converting 12 of those and adding a penalty.

The poisoned chalice, sorry, the captaincy of this disparate, not to say desperate team, finally fell into the hands of Tony Diprose after Will Carling and Francois Pienaar, who are both experienced enough to decline a hospital pass when they see one, withdrew.

So thoroughly prepared were England's opposition that Craig McMullen, an Australian who arrived at Heathrow Airport on Thursday, en route to join Bristol, found himself press-ganged into the All-Stars without ever having played in the Premiership. No sooner had he arrived than he was into a bonding session at Newbury races. Last night they were not so much at the races, more the knacker's yard. Alistair Murdoch, the Bedford centre, broke a collar bone, Niall Woods, the London Irish wing, seriously damaged knee ligaments and Mark Regan, the Bath hooker, injured his ribs. They had lost a third of their players by half-time, at which point they trailed 50-12.

What England hoped to avoid above all else from these exercises were casualties. On the stroke of half-time Matt Dawson limped off, clutching his right leg. Apparently, he suffered a cut and, with Kyran Bracken nursing a back injury, England had no specialist scrum-half on the bench.

They switched Austin Healey from the wing and brought the injury-prone David Rees on to the right wing. Rees was on long enough to score a try, but then sustained a groin injury which saw him leave the field 18 minutes into the second half.

That brought on Mike Catt, who helped himself to two tries. With Cockerill also scoring it was beginning to sound like something out of Aesop's Fables.

England: M Perry (Bath); D Luger (Saracens), W Greenwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), A Healey (Leicester); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), D Grewcock (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: D Rees (Bristol) for Dawson 40; D Garforth (Leicester) for Vickery 43; G Rowntree (Leicester) for Leonard 57; M Catt (Bath) for Rees 58; M Corry (Leicester)for Back 71.

Premiership All-Stars: L Nabaro ( Bristol); J Keyter (Harlequins), A Murdoch (Bedford), R Eriksson (Bedford), N Woods (London Irish); T Lacroix (Saracens), K Putt (London Irish); D Barnes (Harlequins), M Regan (Bath), J White (Saracens), W Waugh (Bath), G Morgan (Harlequins), B Sturnham (Bath), A Diprose (Saracens, capt), R Jenkins (Harlequins). Replacements: P Ogilvie (Saracens) for Diprose 28; B Daniel (Harlequins) or Nabaro 31; A Long (Bath) for Regan 39; B Whetstone (London Irish) for Woods 40; C McMullen (Bistol) for Murdoch 40; R Strudwick (London Irish) for Morgan 40; S Vile (Bristol) for Lacroix 40; A Gomarsall (Bedford) for Putt 40.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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