Rugby Union: England miss home comforts

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The Independent Online
England. .26 Canada. . 13

THERE'S no place like home, and throughout this numbingly mediocre match, the home of English football was no place for the refugees from Twickenham. To the disbelief of the near-40,000 crowd, Canada succeeded in giving their opponents a rigorous examination which, for the most part, England failed.

They gained no perceptible advantage in any department, but they were most glaringly ineffective in their attempts to play the new laws. They had neither the speed nor the creative guile to make better use of their possession.

For a side so addicted to success they seemed strangely inhibited, and for much of the game Geoff Cooke, the England manager, sat in the same seat that was occupied last Wednesday evening by Graham Taylor with the same doleful expression, a mixture of frustration and despair.

Mercifully, he will not be pilloried in the same way, but he will not have been convinced that this is the route to a third successive Grand Slam.

As early as the sixth minute, by which time they had scarcely had a sniff of the ball, England were forced to reduce their line-out to two. Before that they had watched Gareth Rees come perilously close with a drop-goal attempt from all of 50 yards. Rees made no mistake, however, a couple of minutes later when England were penalised for going to ground at the tackle. C'mon you reds.

Home, they say, is where the heart is, and, with heart, body and soul, Canada were patently more at home than England. They were sprightly and inventive in the loose, and fearsome in defence, a quality which occasionally worked against them, as when Will Carling, the England captain, was illegally baulked just inside the Canadian half. The referee sensibly played advantage and England's attack continued down the right touchline through the new cap Ian Hunter. The Northampton wing was half-tackled, but with his pack shoring him up he made it to the line.

There remained a disturbing lethargy about England's play. John Graf, Canada's resourceful scrum-half, escaped down the blind-side before passing to his flanker Ian Gordon, who was stopped inches short of the England line. This, at least, had the effect of rousing England from their torpor.

They exploded into a couple of mauls, and Tony Underwood and Peter Winterbottom combined to set Jeremy Guscott loose. With a scorching burst, he the Bath and Lions centre was over in the corner. Whether or not the ball made contact with the ground before Guscott's body hit the corner flag, was quite beyond the scope of the human eye. C'mon you whites.

Rees and Webb then traded penalty kicks before Hunter was off again like a whippet down England's right flank, but this time Winterbottom's arms were not sufficiently telescopic to hold on to the try-scoring pass.

Even the Mexican wave with which the crowd tried to amuse themselves was little more than a ripple, and the first half staggered to its conclusion with the Canadians, for the second time in seven minutes, being penalised for going to ground after the tackle, a harsh law for players as recklessly committed to defence as the Canadians. C'mon someone.

Winterbottom, bless him, tried his best to rouse the troops with a try from a fine clean catch by Martin Bayfield at the line-out, but the crispness and enterprise of the Canadians' play continued to show up England's shortcomings, and had they not continued to give away so many penalties, they would surely have brought further embarrassment to their opponents.

Nor were England blameless in this respect. There was a spell during the second half when they were penalised at almost every line-out for elbowing or barging, and as the game wound its weary way to the close, it was Canada who finished much the stronger of the two sides.

Graf scuttled through a threadbare defence for a thoroughly well deserved try and then, in a series of quick-fire assaults, England were saved from further punishment by the combined tackling of Dean Ryan and Rob Andrew. Rees was the unfortunate recipient, and he was perhaps still feeling the effects when Canada were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. He had been striking the ball quite beautifully all afternoon, but on this occasion he sent the ball wide of the posts.

With seconds left, England got their act together. Carling struck down the right. A line-out was followed by a scrum, and Guscott floated a long pass to the ubiquitous Hunter, who had materialised on the opposite wing. For Hunter, at least, it had been a day to remember and a job well done.

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), P Winterbottom (Harlequins), D Richards (Leicester).

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), G MacKinnon (Ex Brittania Lions), C McKenzie (UBC Old Boys). Replacement: K Wirachowski (Velox Valhallians) for Evans (49 min).

Referee: G Simmonds (Wales).

Scorers: Rees (pen, 5 min) 0-3; Hunter (try, 18 min) 5-3; Guscott (try, 28 min) 10-3; Rees (pen, 30 min) 10-6; Webb (pen, 33 min) 13-6, Webb (pen, 40 min) 16-6; Winterbottom (try, 49 min) 21-6; Graf/Rees (try/conv, 67 min) 21-13; Hunter (try, 77 min) 26-13.

Photograph, page 27

South Africa beat France, page 27

(Photograph omitted)

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