Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Andrew can't kick habit of lifetime: Ken Jones on England's missed opportunity to send off Geoff Cooke with another Slam

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The Independent Online
THE way Geoff Cooke saw it, and only the most myopic of Welshmen could have seen it otherwise, the chance had been there to achieve a crushing victory and with it the Five Nations' Championship. We should have blown them away is more or less what England's manager was saying as he rode off into the sunset.

Looking down from the dizzy heights of new Twickenham, you could sense it happening. England's forwards rampant, Dean Richards an inspiration, Wales forlorn as though the simplicity of Rodber's try at the start of the second half had invaded their minds as the first rumble of an avalanche.

What happened next told a lot about England, the irony being that a philosophy central to Cooke's stewardship worked against the notion of a triumph gloriously registered.

In Paris two weeks ago Rob Andrew was the cornerstone of success, his tactical kicking and nerveless accuracy when opportunities occurred to put points on the board a decisive factor in the extension of success at the Parc des Princes.

But for England, the trouble is that Andrew represents swings and roundabouts. Habits die hard. Kick first, pass second. Thus to the moment that probably took the gloss off England's convincing victory. With Wales sucked in close to their line, Andrew unsuccessfully went for a dropped goal when a pass to eager backs would surely have brought a try to kill off Welsh resistance. Kick first, pass second.

The dilemma is obvious. With Stuart Barnes, a natural passer and runner at outside- half, Cooke's reign as England manager might have been concluded in spectacular fashion. But Andrew, safe, sound in pressure situations, was the man for Paris. Kick first, pass second. Efficiency over romance.

Thus Wales were let off the hook, a crushing defeat to mar an encouraging revival avoided. Champions even. 'It's about the whole thing, not just one match,' said their captain, Ieuan Evans.

In some ways a strange match, one curiously devoid of drama and atmosphere, as though the introduction of points difference to settle the championship had negatively intruded upon proceedings.

There was much to admire in England's play but full expansion still seems to be beyond them.

It was Cooke's last press conference and he brought to it the familiar air of a patient tutor. His has been a significant stewardship, resounding with principles that have raised England to the front rank of world rugby. From the outside looking in, he will continue to support the cause passionately. 'Four wins out of five,' he said, including last November's defeat of the All Blacks. 'If we'd beaten Ireland here, a game we expected to win, it would have been another Grand Slam,' he said.

Thirty points on the board against Wales would have vindicated his policies completely. But that was beyond the man to whom he owes so much. Getting Andrew to pass first, kick second would require a personality transplant.

(Statistics and graphic omitted)

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