Rugby Union: England's temple of flaws

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GEOFF COOKE has proved himself such a master of the black arts of disinformation that he should be hired forthwith by the Prime Minister, who on present form clearly has greater need of his services than have the England team. They were magnificent, none more so than the late entrants Nigel Redman, Kyran Bracken and Philip de Glanville.

De Glanville justified himself with his tackling alone, as did everyone else, notably Victor Ubogu. Bracken displayed extraordinary toughness after having had his ankle stamped on by Jamie Joseph, whose survival on the tour so far without once being sent off is one of the miracles of rugby union - for in the league game he would have enjoyed several periods of enforced rest.

As for Redman, he literally rose magnificently to the occasion. The sadness is perhaps that for him it is too late, as it is not for the other players. I always thought that the natural English lock pairing of the mid-1980s should have been Redman and Steve Bainbridge - a preference shared, I am told, by Billy Beaumont, though not by the selectors of the time.

All one can do today is applaud. When writing this column, nevertheless, I am sometimes reminded of the mourner who died suddenly of a heart attack at a funeral in Ammanford. 'The unexpected death of Mr David Jones,' the local paper subsequently reported, 'cast a pall of gloom over the proceedings.'

Likewise, I am occasionally conscious of striking what may seem to readers to be a sour note. This does not, I hope, derive from an ungenerous nature, but from a realisation of the importance of luck, as much in rugby as in life.

Thus last week I pointed out that certainly one and possibly two of New Zealand's tries against Scotland were not really tries at all. On Saturday the luck ran against the All Blacks and in England's favour.

If Matthew Cooper had been fit enough to play - or Jeff Wilson had been less out of sorts with himself - and if, in addition, the touch-judge, Stephen Hilditch, had been less clear-sighted, then New Zealand could have won by eight penalties and a converted try or 31 points to 15.

And yet, my principal observation has nothing to do with luck. It is concerned solely with deliberate design. Several colleagues have already commented on not only the magnificence of England's victory but also on the splendour of the surroundings in which it was achieved. I regret I cannot share their enthusiasm for the new Twickenham.

The old stadium, which could accommodate more than 70,000, had history echoing round its winter-cabbage-green stands.

The stands fulfilled their functions of providing a view and, owing to their downward sloping roofs, protecting their occupants from the weather. They were built in this traditional way because their designers realised only too well that England is always rainy and often cold.

The sensible solution would have been to improve the seating and other facilities of the existing stands, and to add two other stands, constructed in a similar servicable style, to the north and south ends.

Instead of following this course, the Rugby Football Union has constructed, or commissioned, a chilly, unfriendly, confusing, concrete Temple of Mammon, dedicated to the gods of corporate hospitality.

I would not mind this so much if the designers had already proceeded on the assumption that Twickenham in Middlesex was really a suburb of Nice, Rome or even Naples. If you are at the top of the new east stand, not only are you too far away from the play. Worse: if the rain is coming down, and the wind is in the wrong direction, you have to be got up like a lifeboat man to stay dry.

English rugby has a lot to be proud of this week but that, unfortunately, does not include its new ground.

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