A fresh season, a fresh venue, fresh laws, fresh opposition from Canada and England making a new pitch to be not only victorious but user-friendly. During the course of successive Grand Slams England have tended towards the sledgehammer approach and, although the nut has invariably cracked, the manner in which it was achieved did not meet with universal approval.
At Wembley Stadium you are going to see a different game and we are not talking about sweepers, offside traps and sliding tackles. 'No longer can we sit on possession and play for position,' Dick Best, the England coach said. 'The new laws have given the coaches a kick up the arse. It was almost like American football in terms of gaining yardage. Now the ball is in play more and we are trying to develop a pattern of play that is quicker, that keeps everybody on edge.' Best had spectators, as well as the players, in mind. 'The game will be more attractive to the punters.'
England field three news caps today, the wings Tony Underwood and Ian Hunter and the prop Victor Ubogu. Considering the English management's intentions it will be staggering if a great deal is not seen of Underwood and Hunter. 'It is a really fast pitch and I expect a really fast game,' Best said. 'It is important that the new wings touch the ball early on and are given a chance to run. This is a sign of things to come. Some players understand that they are not going to be around for the next World Cup. What we don't want is a third of the team dropping out at the end of the season and not having ready-made replacements.'
After years of profligacy, the Rugby Football Union, on the back of England's terrific run, have had little cause to complain about the style. Cranes are busy at work on Twickenham's latest development and, in the building industry, that is a sign of conspicuous success. It is five years and one day since Geoff Cooke was appointed manager and his record is so good he will take England into the next World Cup in 1995.
The Cooke report is: played 37, won 26, lost 10, drawn one. Six of those defeats were by southern hemisphere countries including one by Australia in the final of the World Cup. The signs for Canada are not good. Apart from being irresistible in the Five Nations' Championship, England have been ruthless in their treatment of fringe candidates in recent autumns. They all went the way of dead leaves: Fiji 58-23, Argentina 51-0 and, in the World Cup, Italy 36-6 and the United States 37-9.
Canada, on their World Cup record 12 months ago, earned this one-off trip to England, their bills being paid by the RFU. The only thing Canada will lose is the match. The side that pushed New Zealand and France last year has broken up and only six survivors from the World Cup will be able to tell their grandchildren that they played against England at Wembley.
Norm Hadley, Canada's new captain who has taken over from Mark Wyatt, may be big in British Columbia but today he is up against the twin towers of Wade Dooley and Martin Bayfield.
'England will test our strength in depth,' Hadley said. 'The amateur spirit is alive and kicking in Canada, much to my disappointment. The fact that we are rarely together makes us very competitive when we are. We have a great desire to compete. We have nothing on our minds but to beat England. They're men just like the rest of us.' Sadly, the one mountie that would have made the squad is injured.
Canada, where the game was introduced by British servicemen in the days when Britain still had some trading posts, have had only one serious game since the World Cup, a victory over the United States. They arrived in England on Monday and had a warm-up against Rosslyn Park on Tuesday evening. 'We thought we were in good shape but we weren't,' Ian Birtwell, their Mancunian coach said. 'England are going to pose us a lot of problems but this is an incredibly good opportunity to see whether we can compete at this level. You have to remember we have about one player per five million acres.'
Wembley will not be as accommodating although there might be some room around the ground. The stadium can take 80,000 and a crowd of around 35,000 is expected. 'There are plenty of tickets available,' said a spokesman, 'and people can come through the turnstiles on the day.' Wembley envisages a swelling of the ranks in what they call the 'walk-up' trade. Both teams have been invited to stay on afterwards for the Bruno fight at the adjacent Wembley Arena. 'We are very excited at showing our facilities off,' added the spokesman. 'Wembley could well be the site for more rugby matches.'
(at Wembley Stadium) J Webb Bath 15 S Stewart UBC Old Boys I Hunter Northampton 14 S Gray Kats W Carling Harlequins, capt 13 M Williams Meralomas J Guscott Bath 12 I Stuart Vancouver Rowing Club A Underwood Leicester 11 D Lougheed Toronto Welsh R Andrew Toulouse 10 G Rees Oak Bay Castaways D Morris Orrell 9 J Graf UBC Old Boys J Leonard Harlequins 1 D Jackart UBC Old Boys J Olver Northampton 2 K Svoboda Ajax Wanderers V Ubogu Bath 3 E Evans UBC Old Boys M Bayfield Northampton 4 J Knauer Meralomas W Dooley Preston 5 N Hadley UBC Old Boys, capt D Ryan Wasps 6 I Gordon James Bay D Richards Leicester 8 G McKenzie UBC Old Boys P Winterbottom Harlequins 7 G MacKinnon Britannia Lions
Replacements: P de Glanville (Bath); S Barnes (Bath); S Bates, K Dunn, J Probyn (all Wasps); T Rodber (Northampton).
Replacements: K Wirachowski (Velox Valhallians); T Moen (James Bay); A Wilson (Vancouver RC); J Loveday (Calgary Irish); J Hutchinson (York Yeoman); A Tynan (Meralomas).
Referee: G Simmonds (Wales)Kick-off: 3pm
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