THE crowd was better than expected. So, too, were Canada, but England signally failed to achieve their stated goals. Perhaps disarranged by their new surroundings, England, who just love being in control, were frustrated by the resilience and organisation of the Canadians.
England scored four tries to one, but only rarely showed the form that has made them the dominant force in Europe. This performance was not what the management had in mind and, for the first time in a long time, they have problems to solve. It may be that this was a match in which to remove the rust, although Canada's example undermines that particular argument.
Since reaching the quarter- finals of the World Cup 12 months ago, Canada have played only once - against the United States in June - and will not play another international until they meet England in Vancouver next May. Norm Hadley, their impressive captain, talked about overcoming deficiencies by 'sheer heart and tenacity', and said: 'By God, if only we could be together more often.'
Beforehand, England said they would have no excuses if things went wrong. Compared to the isolated Canadians, they had the Five Nations' Championship, a B tour to New Zealand and the league programme. Geoff Cooke, the manager, said that, as far as the new laws were concerned, his players were 'switched on' and Dick Best, the coach, had said he was delighted with the training sessions. But things did go wrong. And England did offer an excuse or two.
Hadley and company embarrassed England in the line-out, winning far more ball than anybody envisaged against the twin towers of Wade Dooley and Martin Bayfield. 'Some of the players were confused with the interpretations of the referee,' Best said. 'It is an area we will have to address. We in England don't like changes to anything, let alone laws.'
Cooke was more critical. Describing England's performance as a 'major disappointment', he went on: 'Canada stopped us getting the sort of possession we normally expect. We didn't get the flow going. There are a lot of areas we will have to improve. We didn't recycle the ball and we made relatively unforced errors. We are still adapting. We've only had half a dozen games under the new laws.' So England were not, after all, switched on.
There were early signs that we were in the Gazza strip rather than the homely sheepskin coated pens of Twickers. The car parks had a different ambience. Game pie and claret out of a boot of a Jag on Wembley's tarmac does not compare with the Twickenham taste. It was a bit like moving the Henley Regatta to the Isle of Dogs.
Within minutes, a group waving a huge maple leaf flag were in full voice. 'Miss it, you bastard', they yelled as Jonathan Webb, who obliged them, kicked at goal. And they were seated in the Royal Box.
Canada's commitment soon became evident when David Lougheed tackled Ian Hunter with such force that he took the England wing over the touchline, through the Save and Prosper advertising board, and on to the greyhound track. Canada's tackling throughout was first class.
Hunter, winning his first cap, was a rare and conspicuous success for England. He scored two tries, the second the result of one of England's more meaningful attacks when Will Carling, who made a contribution virtually every time he touched the ball, and Tony Underwood acted as decoys and Jeremy Guscott floated a long pass to the unmarked wing. 'When I woke up I decided this was going to be my day,' Hunter, playing only his second game since a cartilage operation last month, said.
However, even in the case of Hunter, England have a problem. He plays full-back for Northampton and Cooke will not consider him for full-back until he proves he is a reliable goalkicker. If Rory Underwood returns against South Africa next month, it looks as if he will take over the No 11 shirt worn by his brother, Tony, on Saturday. He kept it clean for him.
England were leading 21-6 when the scoreboard, growing bored with proceedings, announced that those at the match would receive a 10 per cent discount should they choose to go on to the Wembley Arena for the Bruno fight. Canada were by no means finished. After a series of drives, John Graf dummied Underwood to score an excellent try and England were on the back foot.
Had Gareth Rees, once a Harrow schoolboy, not missed a simple penalty - the ball brushed against the unusually thin upright, making it reverberate like a tuning fork - England's lead would have been reduced to five points.
'We wanted to show that we are not just a bunch of big, immobile forwards,' Hadley said. 'I certainly felt the match was there for the taking. We let England off the hook.'
England: Tries Hunter 2, Guscott, Winterbottom; Penalties Webb 2. Canada: Try Graf; Conversion Rees; Penalties Rees 2.
ENGLAND: J Webb (Bath); I Hunter (Northampton), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), T Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard (Harlequins), J Olver (Northampton), V Ubogu (Bath), M Bayfield (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), D Ryan (Wasps), D Richards (Leicester), P Winterbottom (Harlequins).
CANADA: S Stewart (UBC Old Boys); S Gray (Kats), M Williams (Meralomas), I Stuart (Vancouver Rowing Club), D Lougheed (Toronto Welsh); G Rees (Oak Bay Castaways), J Graf (UBC Old Boys); D Jackart (UBC Old Boys), K Svoboda (Ajax Wanderers), E Evans (UBC Old Boys), J Knauer (Meralomas), N Hadley (UBC Old Boys,capt), I Gordon (James Bay AA) C McKenzie (UBC Old Boys), G MacKinnon (Britannia Lions). Replacement: K Wirachowski (Velox Valhallians) for Evans, 49.
Referee: G Simmonds (Wales).
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