Rugby Union: Englandshort of guiding hand

England 36 Canada 11 Tries: Greenwood 2, Luger, Tries: Stanley Dawson, Perry Pens: Rees 2 Cons: Wilkinson 4 Pen: Wilkinson Half- time: 17-8 Attendance: 19,500
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The Independent Online
THIS WAS an altogether stiffer assignment for England than the sublimely simple grounding of the American Eagles last week, and it has to be said that although in the end England won comfortably enough this was for the most part a thoroughly unconvincing performance, posing more questions than it answered. The biggest of these is what are we to make of young Jonny Wilkinson?

From the ground he kicked beautifully, his flawless technique being rewarded on a balmy summer's evening with 11 points, which included his 100 for England, from four conversions and one penalty. He was most solicitous towards his backs, never once placing them in danger from careless passes. Yet he appeared to lack the presence and the ability to control the play which distinguishes the great from the good and the good from the mediocre.

His kicking from the hand was ill-conceived and poorly directed, giving his colleagues little chance of regaining possession and feeding the excellent Scott Stewart with ample ammunition for counter-attacks, something he did with relish. Wilkinson's shortcomings were all the more obvious set against the mature composure of his opposite number, Gareth Rees. Rees, the mass of whose rugby is behind him but whose body mass is predominantly to the front, was neatly effective in all that he did and without the luxury of time and space afforded to Wilkinson, he made the most of the limited opportunities presented to the Canadians. He had even managed to hit the crossbar from fully 62 metres which, had he succeeded, would have brought the Canadians to within six points of their opponents at half-time.

England enjoyed none of the domination in the tight which, the previous week, had blown the Americans asunder. The Canadian scrummage held out and their line-out coped. Their defence, stretched to the limit early in the match when England's brusque and brawny back row - with Lawrence Dallaglio outstanding from first to last - were running full pelt at the Canadian backs, was admirably resistant to pressure and they could count themselves unfortunate that one of the two tries conceded in the first half was probably the softest that Matt Dawson will score all season.

England's first try by Dan Luger was a much worthier effort from a constructional point of view. The foundations were laid with a quick raid on the right before Wilkinson, winding up in mid-field, uncoiled a massive pass, which Will Greenwood unselfishly off-loaded to Luger on the left wing.

Alas, it was not an occasion for either of England's centres, although in Greenwood's case it was not for want of trying. But after a sprightly opening the possession dried up until the 71st and last minutes when Greenwood scored the tries that put a better gloss on England's faltering performance. Alongside him Jeremy Guscott, Micawberlike, spent most of the game on the periphery of the action, but whatever it was he was waiting for did not turn up.

One of Clive Woodward's priorities will be to address England's profligacy and the number of times they lost possession in promising positions. Their control at times was abysmal and led to Canada's try. An unforced spillage inside the Canadian 22 exposed England's left flank to their opponents' superior numbers. Dave Lougheed kicked through and although he was taken out by Neil Back, Winston Stanley fly hacked on and squeezed in at the corner.

England's frustration was at times too plainly in evidence and when Dan Baugh, the Canadian flanker took a pop at his opposite number, Richard Hill, Martin Johnson, the red mist clouding his judgement and his responsibilities as captain, unwisely but predictably became involved. He and Baugh were shown the yellow card. But the irritation was understandable; against visibly tiring opponents England should have made more of their opportunities. The wholesale replacement of their front row was, apart from Dallaglio's persistence, the most imaginative moment of the second half. The Canadians, expecting a mighty shunt from the England scrummage, were caught unawares by a swift heel and Matt Perry's acceleration on to Dallaglio's pass for the try.

There is, as they say on such occasions, much work still to be done and there is no doubt that England will take consolation from some areas of their play. But if the battleship appears to be in reasonable shape above the waterline they are rudderless beneath it. The marketing mastermind who devised the strategy for staging these pre-World Cup matches has some explaining to do. There was admittedly a more respectable crowd for this match than for last week's one, the loss from which is estimated at pounds 400,000. By the middle of last week fewer than 1,000 tickets had been sold for the match against the Premiership All Stars XV at Anfield and the total deficit at a time when the RFU's financial position is grim is heading for pounds 1m. Those who fondly imagine that the bloodiest and most brutal battles will be confined this season to the playing field are certain to be disappointed.

England: M Perry (Bath), D Luger (Saracens), W Greenwood (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton), G Rowntree (Leicester), P Greening (Sale) P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester, Captain), D Grewcock (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: M Corry (Leicester) for Johnson 17-30; J Leonard (Harlequins for Rowntree, 50; R Cockerill (Leicester) for Greening, 50; D Garforth (Leicester) for Vickery, 50; N Beal (Harlequins) for Healey, 50; T Simpson (Leicester) for Perry, 58; M Catt (Bath) for Guscott, 72;

Canada: S Stewart (Bedford), W Stanley, James Bay, D Lougheed (Leicester), S Bryan (Balmy Beach), C Smith (Meraloma), G Rees (Bedford, Captain), M Williams (Pacific Pride), R Snow (Newport), P Dunkley (Pacific Pride), J Thiel (James Bay), J Tait (Cardiff), M James (Perpignan), R Banks (Bedford), D Baugh (Cardiff), A Charron (Bristol). Replacements: J Hutchinson (UBC Old Boys) for Baugh, 45; M Schmid (Rotherham) for Banks, 55; D Major (Burnside) for Snow, 64; B Ross-(James Bay) for Rees, 71; D Penney (Henley) for Thiel, 76; M Cardinal (James Bay) for Dunkley, 78.

Referee: J Dume (France).