RUGBY UNION: Rowell takes a pragmatic line against French

Click to follow
The Independent Online
England have beaten France seven times in succession, so do not believe they need advice from that side of the Channel. So when the French yesterday dared England to cast care aside in Saturday's match at Twickenham, Jack Rowell gladly gave Pierre Berbizier a dusty response by pointing out that his team would do it their way, merci beaucoup. As it happens, the England manager has been preaching ever since he took over the need to develop a dynamic, free-ranging style far removed from the manner by which many of their recent triumphs have been achieved. Berbizier, the French coach, had intimated that perhaps this was mere talk.

In the end Berbizier had his own players to concern him when Emile N'Tamack withdrew from the team with a thigh injury. N'Tamack, who missed the big game between Toulouse and Toulon (watched by 18,000 people) on Sunday, had expected to be fit but felt a twinge when the team gathered near Paris yesterday and has been replaced by Philippe Bernat-Salles of Pau, winning his ninth cap.

England's fitness concern yesterday was not, after all, Martin Johnson, whose hamstring seems to have made a splendid recovery at just the right time, but Johnson's second-row partner, Martin Bayfield, who has flu and was sent back to the team hotel without participating in yesterday's training at Richmond.

The Bayfield bug has passed through members of his family and he insisted he would have recovered in time. Simon Shaw was called away from the England A team's preparations in Leicester for tomorrow's game against the French to stand in for Bayfield. Will Carling, the England captain, failed to complete the session because of a cold. However, the knee injury that had curtailed him when the team met on Sunday has eased.

Berbizier may have it in his head that England are boring but his well-meant suggestion that Carling's team lose their inhibitions has more to do with the forthcoming World Cup. "If we are to challenge the southern-hemisphere teams we have to discard tight, tactical-kicking games," he said.

"It is true that in the last six years England have been a lot more intelligent than us but if we are both to rise to the challenge of the southern- hemisphere teams, we have to throw caution to the wind. Defeat will not be important if we prove we are on the right lines to challenge Australia, New Zealand and South Africa."

As Berbizier has watched England's win in Ireland only on video, he can have little conception of how necessary it was to move away from Rowell's idealism in those specific circumstances. "That was Plan B," Rowell said, "We are committed to maintaining the style, but we are not going to commit hara-kiri."

This is pragmatic as ever, and come Saturday it is quite probable England will feel the need to tighten up in accordance with tradition and in deference to France. "The French have come on a lot," Rowell said. "They have adapted. They have looked at other teams in the world and learned. They will give us a searching examination like Australia at their best."

The Ireland hooker, Keith Wood, has made rapid progress after a shoulder injury and now expects to be fit to face Scotland on Saturday. Jim Staples, the full-back, pulled out yesterday with flu and was replaced by Connor O'Shea. Niall Hogan withdrew from the Irish bench with a rib injury and was replaced by Alain Rolland.

England's new approach, page 39