Rugby Union: One Big Jack who can talk a good game

Click to follow
The Independent Online
We are listening to Jack Rowell and, curiously, he starts to sound a little like Jack Charlton; not in the way he speaks, although both hail from the North-east, but when casting around for a name or two. "They [Italy] are making good progress. Think of their clubs, Treviso and," he said, glancing across at Phil de Glanville, "er..." "Milan," prompted England's new captain.

Mind you when it comes to pronouncing the tongue twisters Rowell leaves the other Jack standing. That of Italy's talented and imaginative stand- off, Diego Dominguez, came out perfectly. Charlton would not have got past the second syllable.

Perhaps it has something to do with the environment they come from but another thing that reminds you of Charlton is Rowell's bluntness in appraisal. After England's first outing for eight months, "don't let us get carried away" was more or less the message he was conveying.

Next week against the New Zealand Barbarians, wolves in sheep's clothing, will be different, that's for sure, and Rowell made a big thing of it. "I spoke to some of their players recently in South Africa," he said, "and make no mistake, they are all up for this one. They play rugby that's beyond anything in the world and I hope we can keep our heads above water." Two more names for Rowell to articulate. What would Charlton have made of Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri? Their presence alone will put a smile back on the face of ticket touts who went around on Saturday as miserably as men trying to sell wellies in the Sahara.

Yes, a different game, and Rowell was busily preparing the ground. "We'll be on the rack," he said. "And that's what we need." Defeat the All Blacks, by any name, and you have got a great thing going. Lose and it is no more than the majority of people imagined.

What it does, of course, is emphasise the quite ridiculous scope of expectation in British, particularly English, sport. Rowell's notion of the next rugby World Cup embraces victory. He is thinking along similar lines to Glenn Hoddle. Other than France, no other country would be daft enough to suppose such achievement in two games a possibility.

Though represented at Old Trafford last week by a number of foreign recruits, Juventus further proved the technical superiority of Italian football over the British version when overcoming Manchester United.

Rugby is another story. A case is being made for expanding the Five Nations' Championship to include Italy but there was not a great deal of evidence on Saturday to suggest that they are ready. Some exciting players, Dominguez, the scrum-half, Alessandro Troncon - "as good a pair as you'll find in the game," Rowell said - and the full back, Javier Pertile, so well balanced and smooth in acceleration that he appears to run above the ground.

However, almost 25 minutes had passed before Italy got beyond England's 22 with the ball in hand and they hardly won a line-out. For most of the time they had to settle for scraps of possession and a pack weakened by injuries simply couldn't cope with England's incursions.

Nevertheless, with five new caps in the team Rowell was entitled to a measure of satisfaction. Referring to Italy's second-half revival, he said: "It was a good defensive workout." Not that Rowell wanted England to go easy on the pedal. What happened after England turned around leading 28-0 and threatening to run up a massive points total did not fit in with his thinking.

Rowell's judgement generally will have to be delayed. Mike Catt racked up 19 points with three penalties and five conversions but some blemishes from easy positions left at least a small doubt about him.

When the players appear on the field, and cross the white lines, the game is no longer about money or administrative strife or special counsels. De Glanville was eager to put that forward on Saturday but it remains to be seen how much valuable territory has been lost to the blunders that accompanied the onset of professionalism.

Comments