Rugby Union: Perry poised for champagne future

Geoffrey Nicholson believes there is light at the end of the tunnel for new England
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The Independent Online
The arrival of England's brave new world, like the train service at Twickenham, was unavoidably delayed by quite foreseeable circumstances yesterday. But at least it hasn't gone off the rails. Although England failed to score a try, there were enough signs of promise in Clive Woodward's rejuvenated team to suggest that it will reach his destination eventually.

It is all very well for Woodward to hit the ground running - but only if he lands on his feet. Through no fault of his own, the new England coach stumbled on his grand entry into Twickenham when Alex King, his chosen stand-off, lost his personal battle of wounded knee and had to pull out of the side. That still left Woodward with a radically altered team, including five new caps with an average age of 22, and some imaginative role swapping in which the 20-year-old Bath centre, Matt Perry, was able to prove his versatility and flair at full-back.

But King's had been the crucial selection not only for his own exciting potential but because it meant switching Mike Catt out to centre. Stand- off is such a glamorous, egocentric position that it is often hard for the holder to give it up ungrudgingly - as Wales found with Neil Jenkins. But if Catt could settle at centre the back line might even be strengthened without loss of what proved to be an essential place kicker. Instead, with King out of action it was back to last season's final drawing board, Catt resuming as play-maker, and Phil de Glanville reclaiming his place in the centre. It had worked before, but it was not part of Woodward's master plan for the future.

Still it sufficed to force a draw, even though de Glanville left the field injured after eight minutes and stayed away for 17, and Catt had a mixed game. He was never negative in his intentions, and occasionally showed high ambition, but he squandered an early try opportunity with a wild pass only vaguely in the direction of an unguarded David Rees, and he gave a blind pass from the ground in front of his posts, an indiscretion which might have left England deep in the mire if the referee's attention had not been drawn to a touch judge doggedly holding up his flag for an unnoticed foot-in close to the halfway line. And though much of Catt's tactical kicking was effective his straightforward high punts up field landed far too short to allow his forwards to gather any momentum as they ran on to them.

At the same time Catt could suddenly surprise the Australians with a wicked thrust through the centre, and his third penalty goal just before the interval brought the first burst of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". And his final kick to level the match brought the second, more in relief than triumph. Otherwise it had not been a lyrical game, with England getting poor return from their possession and position in the first half.

Fortunately, the Australians, though effective in attacking from depth, had nowhere near their normal poise. John Eales missed all his kicks at goal, and for a time passed up the option until he moved responsibility on to the shoulders of his wing, Joe Roff. So the quixotic Catt survived in the crowd's estimation to become the local hero.

Perry ran him close, tackling ferociously and taking almost every high ball cleanly. He made the odd mistake, but was always highly committed. Woodward said before the game that he did not want any players hiding on the field, and no one could have been more open in his intentions than the young Bath all- rounder. His was a performance to remember from a generally underwhelming occasion.

The debutants: How England's bunch of five newcomers fared by Paul Trow

Matt Perry

The 20-year-old Bath full-back grew in confidence and did more than enough to keep his place. His first real involvement came in the 14th minute when he snuffed out a dangerous run by Ben Tune. Five minutes later he pulled off a similar tackle on Stephen Markham, but he later missed the high ball which led to George Gregan's try. After the interval he was solid in defence apart from one glaring knock-on, and produced a thrilling counter- attacking run about 10 minutes from time.

David Rees

Like Perry, the 23-year-old Sale wing did enough to deserve another go against the All Blacks next weekend. His first touch was to tidy up a potentially dangerous Australian attack by falling on an awkwardly bouncing ball. His natural exuberance got the better of him when he was fractionally offside chasing a long Mike Catt kick out of defence. But he did a lot of covering across the field and was not afraid to run directly at the opposing forwards when breaking from the back.

Will Greenwood

The 25-year-old Leicester centre, who established his international credentials on the Lions tour, had a curate's egg of a game. He was used as a battering ram to punch holes in the Australian midfield with mixed success. Strong and willing throughout, his defence was solid and he made few handling errors. The highlight of his afternoon came just before the interval when he used his height to catch a high ball 10 yards from Australia's posts in one of England's rare threatening attacks.

Andy Long

Even from a coach as adventurous as Clive Woodward, the decision to cap the 20-year-old Bath hooker was a gamble. His first throw-in found Garath Archer, but the next two went astray as he struggled to find his range. In the loose he was anonymous and made little impact in the scrums where England's front row were in trouble, especially in the first half. His replacement by Richard Cockerill after the interval put the lid on a disappointing afternoon.

Will Green

The 24-year-old Wasps tight-head earned his place with some storming scrummaging against Brive last weekend. But there is a big step up in class and intensity between club and international rugby, and the front row struggled throughout, especially in the first half. Green's worst moment came when he was forced to concede a penalty inside his own 22 on England's put in. But even at this level, he will pack against few props as powerful as the giant loose-head Richard Harry.