Rugby Union: Garforth and Leonard were shunted around like two locomotives in the old Swindon sidings

ALAN WATKINS on rugby
Click to follow
The Independent Online
As I was not one of those taken in by Clive Woodward's line of chat, I invested - as the bookmakers like to express it - pounds 100 in France to win the Five Nations' Championship at 13-8. I put another pounds 50 on France to beat England at 5-4.

Lest you imagine I am always correct in my predictions or lucky in my bets, which is the last thing I should want anybody to believe, I had a pounds 50 double on France and Ireland, the latter being 11-10 against Scotland. I reasoned crudely that, while Scotland had the better backs, Ireland had the better forwards (with three current Lions, four when Jeremy Davidson returns), together with the advantage of the home crowd.

I did not have a straight bet on the Dublin match because I was insufficiently confident of the home country's success; whereas the double was a justifiable frivolity. Alas, it failed to come up by two points. I cannot honestly claim that any great injustice was done to Ireland.

Certainly no injustice whatever was done to England in Paris. Woodward, Lawrence Dallaglio and other assorted players and hangers-on have had the grace to admit it. Indeed, sackcloth and ashes are what the fashionable England player is now wearing. Whether this new outfit does him any good is more questionable.

Though some of my colleagues have been gullible in accepting Woodward's boasts at face value, it is not the press that has cast down England, as if the team were the traditional British heavyweight, at one minute praised, at the next scorned.

No, the responsibility lies squarely with Woodward and secondarily, with Roger Uttley, not for producing a team who failed to beat the French - not at all - but for raising unreal expectations.

Let us dispose of one fallacy at the outset. It is that England were outperformed because they did not choose big enough forwards, particularly in the back row. Yet even with Neil Back, England slightly outweighed the French in that department.

No doubt Tim Rodber or Tony Diprose will return at No 8 for the Welsh match. However, it will be folly if that is at the expense not of Richard Hill but of Back, one of England's best players in Paris, the others being Dallaglio, Garath Archer, David Rees and, in patches, Jeremy Guscott, who might have scored an unjust match-drawing try if he had simply carried on running instead of kicking ahead.

The same goes for Philippe Bernat-Salles, who must be the fastest wing in the Championship with the undoubted exception of Nigel Walker (if he is allowed to play in it) and the possible exception of Denis Hickie. The only difference is that, if Bernat-Salles had simply gone for the corner flag rather than turned inside for support, when he was caught by a gallant but otherwise undistinguished Mike Catt, his try would have been a true reflection of the state of play.

There are two matters which continue to puzzle me and have not been satisfactorily explained. After a quarter of an hour or so it was obvious that Darren Garforth and Jason Leonard were in trouble. Indeed, they were being shunted around like two locomotives in the old Swindon sidings that had seen better days.

My first question is: why did Woodward refuse to make use of his substitutes? For various reasons, he possessed (I think) unprecedented luxury of having at his disposal an entire front row, Graham Rowntree, Dorian West and Phil Vickery, sitting on the bench. And yet West alone went on - and that was with only 10 minutes of the match left. What are substitutes for, under the new laws, if they are not used?

My second question concerns Paul Grayson. Admittedly he made the best of a bad job. But why did he persist in lying so flat when the scrum was being hauled hither and yon like a rope of Breton onions? The flat-lying outside-half, is, as we know, a modern fad, comparable to the speculative penalty kick to the corner when there are three points on offer in front of the posts. Woodward himself pioneered flat backs in English club rugby following his sojourn in Australia. But the technique works only if you have a stable scrum or an advancing pack. In Paris, England had neither.

Perhaps last Saturday's game was not the end of the international season after all. If France win their next two matches and Wales their next three, we shall see a grand finale at Wembley on Sunday 5 April. On last Saturday's evidence, I still think my money is safe. For sentimental reasons I only wish it were not so.

Comments