Rugby Union: England century fires a warning: England 106 USA 8

Ruthless Twickenham performance has Woodward purring with the World Cup just five weeks away
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The Independent Online
ONE OF the more intriguing characteristics of the American sports nut is his naked preference for complex games - gridiron and baseball being the prime examples - that do not feature teams from anywhere else on the planet. Now, we understand why. Put the fiercely protectionist Yanks on a true international stage with the big boys from overseas and they go belly-up on a scale bordering on the Bunteresque. "There are 250m folk back home who won't even know we played this match," said Jack Clark, the United States coach. "Under the circumstances, that's probably just as well."

Stateside, rugby will survive the humiliation dished out by a particularly sadistic England in the Twickenham echo chamber on Saturday night. The energy and commitment of men like Clark, a star of the first order, and his captain, Dan Lyle, will ensure that much. But all the fanciful talk of a top-dollar, coast-to-coast, nationally televised, professional league turning the masses into sporting unionists is so much American pie in the sky. Rupert Murdoch is rumoured to be interested in bankrolling the venture, but, with the Eagles in their current predicament, it might just as well be Rupert Bear.

England were superb; it would be churlish to suggest otherwise with 16 tries on the scoreboard, all but three of them converted by the increasingly influential Jonny Wilkinson. But the visitors were not only exasperatingly naive and desperately slow in the brain department, they were far less resilient than Clive Woodward and his think-tank colleagues had anticipated. They were dispossessed almost at will, not only by the uglies in the red rose pack but also by the Matt Dawsons and Austin Healeys outside. And if their suspect scrum held up rather better than expected, it was only because Phil Greening and company were sucking in great lungfuls of oxygen after haring around the paddock with the ball under one arm.

Greening's contribution may have sent a few Gloucester old-timers spinning in their graves; back in the days when men were men and backs were required only to make up the numbers and buy the beer, no self-respecting West Country hooker would have dreamed of cutting angles like an outside centre, flicking out miss-passes off either hand, or cruising 30 metres for an overlap try in the right corner. But a new millennium is just around the corner and the flashy front-rower with the billiard ball haircut fancies himself as the spirit of the age. While Woodward may yet ask the battle- hardened Richard Cockerill to face the World Cup music in October, it is now evident that Greening can do things his Leicester rival would not attempt in a month of Sundays.

"I hope I made the right sort of statement out there," said the 23-year- old, secure in the knowledge that he had done precisely that. And he was not alone. Among the late runners for a World Cup starting place against Italy in a little under five weeks are Graham Rowntree, Phil Vickery, Danny Grewcock and, on the basis of a cultured defensive performance, Phil de Glanville. All four made the most of their opportunity and, while Vickery was confidently expected to scrummage the living daylights out of the Eagles, Grewcock's penchant for hitting rucks and mauls like an articulated truck has placed a nasty little depth charge under the previously unassailable Tim Rodber.

Quite reasonably, Woodward felt good about a performance that blew every Twickenham record clean out of the statistical annals. "That wasn't the Netherlands out there," he said, referring to last autumn's 100-pointer against the hapless Dutch. "The Americans were up to it in the physical sense and, while I'd be lying if I said we didn't expect to win the game, we certainly weren't thinking in terms of three figures. As far as my 30 for the World Cup is concerned, I know pretty much how it will be. I was looking for confirmation from certain people in this game and I got it."

One of the first to confirm whatever it was Woodward wanted confirmed was his old friend and former captain, Lawrence Dallaglio. His ability single-handedly to accelerate the pace of a game has not been adversely affected by his fun and games with Fleet Street's finest. Dallaglio's long, self-inflicted break from meaningful activity persuaded Woodward to give him the full 80 minutes and he made a telling point three minutes from time by galloping 50 metres to serve up a try for De Glanvillle. "It's no secret that I like the look of the back row with Lawrence at No 8," admitted the coach. "Hopefully, all the other stuff will be behind us this time next week."

If there was an English blip, it arrived just after half an hour when George Sucher scrambled a traditional prop's try to the left of the posts following a rumble from Alec Parker. Woodward was spitting nails about it long after the final whistle - he had set his heart on a clean sheet - but it had needed a flash of 24-carat genius from the slippery Kevin Dalzell to unlock the door to the red rose garden.

There were five first-half tries from England, the pick of them falling to the inexhaustible Neil Back following a floated pass from Greening that could have been delivered by Gregor Townsend. After the break, things turned really grisly for the Eagles: a carefree scoring run from Matt Perry two minutes in was quickly trumped by the first of four beauties from Jeremy Guscott. Much of the damage stemmed from Dawson's alert penalty taps and the suffering Clark was at a loss to understand why his side failed to cotton on to a tactic that fell some way short of rocket science.

"I'd say it was a pretty humbling experience; once we let England get on their toes, they looked bloody unstoppable," he admitted. "There's no self-pity in our locker room, though, just a lot of disappointment at missing an opportunity to develop the game in America. But hey, we were up against a side who are about to compete for the world championship. Let's face it, we won't be competing in quite the same way."

England: Tries Guscott 4, Perry 2, Back 2, Luger 2, Hill, Dawson, Johnson, Greening, Penalty try, De Glanville; Conversions Wilkinson 13. United States: Try Sucher; Penalty Dalzell.

England: M Perry (Bath); A Healey (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), P De Glanville (Bath), D Luger (Saracens); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), P Greening (Sale), P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), D Grewcock (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps), N Back (Leicester).

Replacements: T Woodman (Gloucester) for Rowntree, 54; W Green (Wasps) for Vickery, 54; T Stimpson (Leicester) for Perry, 59; T Rodber (Northampton) for Grewcock, 59; N McCarthy (Gloucester) for Greening, 67.

United States: K Shuman (Oxford Univ); V Anitoni (San Mateo), J Grobler (Denver Barbarians), T Takau (Gentlemen of Aspen), A Saulala (San Mateo); D Niu (Hibernians), K Dalzell (Mission Beach); G Sucher (Washington), T Billups (Pontypridd), R Lehner (Old Blues), L Gross (Rovigo), A Parker (Gentlemen of Aspen), D Hodges (Llanelli), D Lyle (Bath), F Mounga (Old Blues).

Replacements: C Morrow ((Gentlemen of Aspen) for Anitoni, 11; R Lumkong (Denver Barbarians) for Mounga, H-T; M Williams (Gentlemen of Aspen) for Niu, 61; K Khasigian (Univ of California) for Billups, 61; S Paga (Univ of California) for Hodges, 67; M L'Huillier (Sydney Univ) for Lehner, 73.

Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).