Rugby Union: De Glanville feels burden of expectation

FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: A cohesive Scottish unit wants to play on England's nerves
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The great and good of the Rugby Football Union may have delivered their long-awaited verdict on the peace deal with England's senior clubs, but the jury is still out on the national team. If Jack Rowell's new-look outfit goes belly-up against Scotland at Twickenham today, capital punishment will be the least the coach can expect to get away with.

For this side, controversial in the rejection of Jeremy Guscott and Ben Clarke, has little to do with round-table consensus and everything to do with Rowell in his role as Big White Chief. As Phil de Glanville admitted on Thursday, the captain's input on selection was consultative rather than decisive.

It is reasonable to assume that De Glanville, under considerable pressure for his own place, would feel more comfortable operating alongside Guscott, Mike Catt and Adedayo Adebayo, his Bath clubmates. Familiarity counts for an awful lot, especially in the hurly-burly of a Calcutta Cup match, but the skipper does not have that luxury today.

Two crucial elements in England's plan to expand their game beyond the postage stamp limits of Murrayfield 1996 - Tim Stimpson, the full-back, and Richard Hill, the new open-side flanker - are unknown quantities at Test level. There can be no hope of a telepathic understanding at this early juncture, and therein lies the rub: the Scots, lightweight up front and workaday out wide, have none the less developed an enviably intimacy in the crucial decision-making positions of back-row and half-back, and if they can pinch a decent share of possession, they will be dangerous opponents.

Rob Wainwright, their captain, was in bullish mood yesterday as he mulled over what he considered to be conflicting statements of intent from the rival camp. "I've read comments by both De Glanville and Paul Grayson, their outside-half, and they seem to be saying different things," he said after a brief training run at Bracknell. "Phil was insisting that winning was the only important thing, which suggests that England might play to their traditional forward strength.

"Paul, on the other hand, was talking in terms of striking a happy medium between the fast, open game we saw from England against Italy in November - when, incidentally, they were under very little pressure - and the sterile approach we saw at Murrayfield last year."

Given that the Scots, with Ian Smith restored to the open-side flank and his namesake Tom, a loose-head prop in the mould of the 1990 Grand Slam captain David Sole, making his debut in the front row, are well-equipped to feed off the slightest hint of confusion, Wainwright looked more than happy at the prospect of England failing to sing from the same hymn sheet.

If Tom Smith, a squat, powerful 25-year-old Watsonian, turns out to be a quarter as good as Sole - a state-of-the-art loose head if ever there was one - then Jason Leonard will be in for an interesting 80 minutes. Not so much at the set-piece, which even the Scots describe as Smith's most obvious weakness, but in the loose; the visitors believe the new boy can make a major impact at ruck and maul, as well as in the tackle count.

By coincidence, the last Tom Smith to make his Scottish debut at Twickenham ended up scoring a winning try from the second row. That was in 1983 and the Scots, who have not won in London since, have barely managed to cross the English line either.

It is now eight years since John Jeffrey took advantage of a succession of English cock-ups to score in front of the old North Stand, and Wainwright is realistic enough to know that chances will be at a premium this afternoon. "I expect England to tackle hard and operate their customary tight defence," he admitted.

But for all their own talk of working the wide open spaces, England have been equally barren on the try-scoring front. They have not breached the Scottish line since 1993, when Stuart Barnes ripped the visitors to shreds in midfield, and the three subsequent games had been mere benefit occasions for a trio of kickers - Jon Callard in 1994, Rob Andrew a year later and the much-criticised Grayson last season.

If Rowell ends up relying on Grayson's accuracy again today, the fell sound of knives being sharpened will be almost deafening. Scotland's dire performance against Wales a fortnight ago has done the English few favours, for it only served to increase the burden of expectancy in England.

While Wainwright yesterday wore the relaxed look of a man who knew full well that his side could not possibly play as badly again, Rowell and De Glanville had no such comfort zone in which to recline. It is likely to be very edgy indeed.

Will Carling, the former England captain, has revealed he is unlikely to go on this summer's Lions tour of South Africa even if selected. "I have to say I would doubt whether I would go, even if I was asked," he said.

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