Rugby Union: Davies sowing seeds of doubt

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND will tomorrow answer the question posed by the mischievous Welsh yesterday: are they, as they try to take another step towards a third consecutive Grand Slam, a team on the way up or down?

Wales, their opponents in Cardiff, naturally hope the latter is the case, though this is probably wishful thinking. After training yesterday at Wycliffe College in Gloucestershire, a taciturn Will Carling expressed his admiration for his team's performance in comfortably beating South Africa, and Geoff Cooke, the manager, did the same over the recent French match.

Still, best not to be complacent. 'There is a fine line between winning and losing internationals and it would not take a lot for the game to run away from us,' Cooke said. Carling and Cooke may wish for continued improvement but, in their heart of hearts, could well feel the hardest part is over.

Wales, who trained in Cardiff, were predictably doing their best to sow doubt in English minds. For instance, Alan Davies, the Wales coach, exercised his imagination when he wondered whether England were worried about their full- back and wing, their reshaped back row and changed second row.

It is not a bad time to remind England they have won only once in Cardiff since 1963, though Cooke said that playing Wales had become a match like any other (which presumably means an England win like any other). 'England are not as good as the side that played in the World Cup final,' Davies asserted. 'They would admit that maybe they are at a stage where they are rethinking for the future.' That sounds more like common sense than an admission, and England do already have two Grand Slams to their credit - two more than Wales have achieved since 1978.

In fact the longest-running bogy is Scotland's in Paris, where they have not beaten France since 1969. As, moreover, they have never won at Parc des Princes, their captain in tomorrow's match there, Gavin Hastings, was scarcely overstating it yesterday when he said: 'Paris is a very difficult place to play but I will not be intimidated.'

It is, though, less difficult for some than others, as England have proved by winning there three times in a row and, to be fair to the Scots, they have gone closer than most during their 24 years of failure. 'We've got to do it some time,' Hastings added.

'We have to keep our concentration, eliminate mistakes and make sure we don't give the French an inch.' Which, to everyone else's chagrin, is precisely what England, the only home country to win at the Parc since 1975, have been doing.

Front-row pedigree, page 30