Rugby Union: England turn off charm as Uttley ushers away hosts

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MOST NEW Zealanders subscribe to the view that England's current crop of rugby tourists should spend at least some of their spare time exploring alternative employment opportunities. On yesterday's evidence, the visitors can abandon any thoughts of a collective career in the security services; Clive Woodward's cloak and dagger attempts to keep the All Blacks guessing in advance of this weekend's opening Test backfired when around 100 students and the entire South Island media descended on a training session he assumed was being held behind closed doors.

Quite how the England coach reached that assumption may forever remain a mystery; having elected to use the excellent Otago University facilities here, he might have anticipated some interest from the large and enthusiastic rugby fraternity, especially as a big college game was in progress not 20 metres away from the training pitch. In the event, it was left to Roger Uttley, the tour manager, to evict the students from part of their own campus.

Given that some 3,000 spectators had been permitted to watch the All Blacks train in Queenstown earlier in the week, England were made to look both small-minded and paranoid. Uttley went about his awkward task in gentlemanly fashion but the incident remained the public relations version of an own goal. A charm offensive without an ounce of charm.

The almost oceanic gulf between the two sides in terms of experience and proven expertise made it difficult to imagine any All Black lying awake at night, fretting over the England line-up. Woodward may, however, succeed in taking the New Zealanders by surprise with yet more bold, make- do-and-mend experimentation in his much-maligned back division.

Tim Stimpson, still a little short of match fitness but very much in the swing of things with his goal-kicking, spent most of yesterday's session on the right wing. Josh Lewsey, meanwhile, was running at inside centre, with Jonny Wilkinson in his favoured position of stand-off and Matt Perry in his optimum role of full-back. Nick Beal and Austin Healey completed the unit at outside centre and left wing respectively.

Woodward is well capable of tinkering with his selection until shortly before kick-off, but yesterday's formation had a logical look to it, as well as an inventive one. Stimpson possesses the physical clout to compete with Jonah Lomu - indeed, he stopped Lomu stone dead at Twickenham during England's match with the New Zealand Barbarians 18 months ago - and while he is lacking a yard of pace after a frustrating season on the Newcastle margins, his big hoof of a right boot would be an invaluable asset.

So, too, would Lewsey's defensive capabilities in the face of the threat posed by Andrew Mehrtens and Walter Little in the All Black midfield. Woodward has identified the Bristol youngster as his most secure back- line tackler and the absence of both Steve Ravenscroft and Jos Baxendell from yesterday's work-out suggested that the selectors had bitten the bullet and backed their gamblers' instincts.

No such shots in the dark for the All Blacks, of course. A calf strain suffered by Anton Oliver, the successor to Sean Fitzpatrick as hooker and chief winder-up, was the only worry for John Hart and his coaching staff as the home side completed their preparations in the dramatic surroundings of Queenstown and flew to Dunedin yesterday.

"I expect Anton to come through, every bit as much as I expect England to pose a formidable challenge, especially up front in the forwards," said Hart with his customary degree of diplomacy.

On the quiet, he also expects his team to win by a distance, especially as Little, Robin Brooke and Michael Jones have passed fitness tests. Suddenly, the Wallabies in Brisbane seem a soft touch.