Phil de Glanville, the former England captain, will miss tomorrow's demanding appointment with the rejuvenated keepers of the Springbok flame because of ankle trouble. Nick Greenstock, of Wasps, wins a fourth cap as his replacement and while De Glanville's defensive qualities will undoubtedly be missed, the introduction of one international centre for another is not, on the face of it, a cause for panic.
There are very good reasons for concern, though. If Clive Woodward, the England coach, is correct in his prognosis, it will not be long before the senior clubs' obsession with foreign players leaves the national management without adequate cover in several key positions. The day will dawn when the selectors go in search of a Greenstock and find only southern hemisphere thirtysomethings with dodgy hamstrings and six-figure bank balances.
Woodward spent much of last week in Old Mother Hubbard mode, bemoaning the worrying scarcity of provisions. Last night, he returned to the soapbox with a vengeance, lambasting the short-sightedness and self-interest he sees around him and accusing top English teams of shelling out pension plans to imported has-beens rather than priceless top-level opportunities to youngsters with a legitimate future in the national set-up.
"The current structure of English rugby is laughable," he said in an interview broadcast on Sky's Rugby Club programme. "I don't think there is a country in the world in a worse position to generate a successful national side. I'm determined to be part of the team that fixes this. It's not part of my job description, but it's close to my heart."
He described Harlequins' decision to sign Zinzan Brooke, the great All Black No 8, as a "disaster", adding: "The headlines in New Zealand were `Zinny retires'. I've nothing against him - he's a top bloke and good luck to him - but we're just paying his pension. No one can come up to me and say the current structure is right for English rugby. The club scene needs a successful England team and England need a successful club scene. At the moment, we haven't got either."
Short-term success tomorrow depends on the ability of what amounts to a second new England line-up in three weeks finding immediate cohesion in the face of what is certain to be a challenge of extreme seriousness. Three-quarters of the way through a four-match series against the best the world has to offer, Woodward finds himself with a fresh left-wing, an untried midfield partnership, a pair of locks boasting five caps between them and an experimental concoction in the back row.
Thankfully, Lawrence Dallaglio does not appear the least bit perturbed by the comprehensive dismantling of the side that performed so honourably in defeat against New Zealand last weekend. "The aim is to set down our marker, not only to equal the southern hemisphere teams but to surpass them," said the captain yesterday. "I think we have it in us both physically and psychologically to start the process with a win tomorrow.
"It's unfortunate that Phil, who has been on a roll this season, is unable to capitalise on that good form against the Boks. But I know from my experience with Wasps that Nick is a Test-class player."
However committed Dallaglio considers his squad to be, they will do well to match the battle-hardened sense of purpose evident among the South Africans. Cut to the quick by last summer's 2-1 reverse against the Lions and subsequent failures in the Tri-Nations series, they have reacted by rattling up 150 points and 21 tries in their last three Tests against Italy and France.
"We scored 52 points in Paris last Saturday, which I did not expect," said their new coach, Nick Mallett, yesterday. "But while we played particularly well, the French did not perform at all. More importantly, they lost heart totally. That is something the English simply will not do.
"With that in mind, it could be a case of grinding out the victory rather than winning in flamboyant fashion. The great thing about this group of players is that the inter-state rivalries back home have been forgotten. Everyone wants to do well for each other and hopefully we possess sufficient strength of character to see us through."
Simon Shaw, the Wasps lock, has recovered from an elbow injury and takes his place on the England bench at Twickenham.
Newport have emerged as favourites to secure the services of the former England and Harlequins coach, Dick Best, as director of coaching.Reuse content