RUGBY UNION: England begin to feel the pressure

England 27 Western Samoa 9
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The Independent Online
What are we to make of it when a Twickenham crowd - the very people, remember, who have supposedly helped make England almost invincible at home - turn against their own? The jeering and ironic cheering were, perversely, both profoundly shocking and wholly to be expected.

When you have forked out pounds 27 a ticket (it was pounds 33 for last month's South Africa match and will be again for the Wales and Ireland matches in the new year) for this sort of dross, you have a legitimate pecuniary cause for complaint which you might once have kept quiet because the boys were only doing their best.

No longer. When the England players signed on the dotted line they became professionals and, alas for them, professionals have to justify themselves in a way that, say, Ken Jones, the great Welsh wing who has just resigned as Newport's president because the club had gone professional, never did. If members of the public liked what Ken did, fine; if not, so what?

As it happens, Newport are an oddity as members of both the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union; a throwback, this, to the days when Monmouthshire was officially neither one thing nor the other. A bit like England's rugby. They want - Jack Rowell pleaded for it again after the Samoans had been defeated - the crowd to turn their spanking new 78,000 facility into "fortress Twickenham" when the responsibility lies with them.

So blaming the media, as Will Carling did for inflating spectators' expectations and Rowell did for inflating players' expectations, is not to be taken seriously. In fact such a good job had been done of talking up the Samoans, with the draw with Scotland as justification, that you end up asking: who do these guys believe: their own manager and captain or the papers?

"The England team are trying too hard to play champagne rugby," Rowell said, adding - with a fine disregard for the mixing of metaphors: "People have to understand the champagne is more celebratory than the bread and butter of it." What he is trying to say is that the mundane basic requirement of establishing superiority through the forwards is something that has to be achieved rather than taken for granted.

If his players do not - as he seems to be implying - understand this, why not? It suggests that there is static on the line of communication between Rowell and them, because the manager, first with the old guard up to and including the World Cup and now with the new guard, has one way or another found himself thwarted. "I'm doing my bit," he said, as if in self-exculpation.

The discord between those on and off the field reached its dissonant climax when with England leading by a precarious 15-9 Paul Grayson, successful with his first five penalties in international rugby, lined up a sixth to a crescendo of slow hand-clapping that concluded with a flourish of sardonic joy when he duly missed.

The debutant admitted afterwards that he had been put off by the crowd's attitude. "It's incredible," Rowell muttered in disbelief. It has not, incidentally, been the case that Twickenham crowds have never been known to jeer - contrary to the patronising imprecations of the announcer at last week's University match - but this was something else entirely.

Rowell's frustration was born of his side's utter inability to prevent the Samoans' systematic killing of the loose ball, though England were no less guilty on the fewer occasions they were under defensive pressure. In any case, somehow when Australians or South Africans - or even England in the World Cup - have played the islanders they have had less difficulty.

The heavy disproportion of penalties gave Grayson his chances and, given that England were incapable for an hour of breaking through by any other means, it was a relief as much as a satisfaction that the new outside- half was so composed. To say he looked like a latter-day Rob Andrew would be doing one or the other a disservice but he and Matthew Dawson together laid a worthy claim to a decent international future.

So, too, did Lawrence Dallaglio, though his influence dwindled from prominent beginnings until he worked a back-row move with Ben Clarke at a short- range scrum for the first try.

Three minutes later Rory Underwood redeemed his earlier fallibility by acutely angling inside Mike Catt for his 48th try for England.

It should have been the start of something big, but instead was the end. The Samoans may have been unwontedly restricted to penalties but they defended dauntlessly and played enough ambitious rugby for the 78,000 to earn enthusiastic acclaim as they ran a lap of honour and made their farewell rendition of the Manu Samoa.

With France in Paris next up, these are more worrying times for Rowell than he would care to admit. There is no consolation in the ending of the first three-match losing sequence since 1987, because that was as predictable as much of England's rugby, and it comes to something when Carling's men have to look to the opposition for words of encouragement.

"They would be relieved with their win," Bryan Williams, Western Samoa's coach, told the assembled scribes. "You may want to downgrade England's performance but we didn't allow them to play the sort of game you wanted to see. I personally feel English rugby is on a high at the moment and it's going to go from strength to strength." Jack Rowell would like to be able to agree.

England: Tries Dallaglio, Underwood; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 5. Western Samoa: Penalties Kellett 3.

ENGLAND: M Catt (Bath); D Hopley (Wasps), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson, M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps).

WESTERN SAMOA: H V Patu (Vaiala); B Lima (Marist), T Vaega, G Leaupepe (Te Atatu), A Telea (Petone); D Kellett (Ponsonby), J Filemu (Wellington); M Mika (Otago University), T Leiasamaiva'o (Wellington), P Fatialofa (Manukau), P Leavasa (Apia), L Falaniko (Marist), S Kaleta (Ponsonby), P Lam (capt), S Vaifale (Marist). Replacement: S Smith (Helensville) for Falaniko, 72.

Referee: I Rogers (South Africa).

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