RUGBY UNION: Rowell warms to theme with no variation

Ponderous passing, a blunt cutting edge, and a blinkered response to the public leave Tim Glover unimpressed
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The Independent Online
Will Carling adjusted his tie and chewed on his right thumb. He did not look like the captain of England, not the bubbly personality of old, more like a man in an interview waiting room. It was hard to get a word in edgeways with Big Jack in full flow.

Jack Rowell, the manager, had just about reached the point where he said... "and the captain's doing his bit" when Carling went into his neck-rolling routine, the one that says it has been a hard day's week and he has been working like a dog. He could do with eight days a week and his diary still would not be big enough.

The lads have finally signed contracts with the Rugby Football Union, but in Carling's case it seems clear that he is not being paid to promote Sunkist. The after-match inquest room is a good vehicle to promote goods, bustling as it is with television cameras, but when Carling came in with his can of Sunkist he looked like a schoolboy holding an untipped Woodbine. He placed the soft, fizzy drink on a chair next to him, way below table level as if the intention was for nobody to see it.

Meanwhile, Rowell was warming to a theme and a familiar one it was. Betjeman might have put it thus:

"Come friendly bombs and fall on't press pack

"For it is easier to blame the media, than pin the blame on Big Jack."

When it comes to public speaking, Rowell is in the filibuster class. In midweek he volunteered the view that England, after three defeats in a row, "owed the nation a big one." The fact that they did not deliver the big one against Western Samoa was, it seemed, down to the media and the expectation they had forced on England to play "champagne rugby."

"Everyone wants to beat England," Rowell said. "You shouldn't forget that there are no easy games." Pointing out that the team had lost "Rob and Dewi and Brian" he added that it took Andrew 20 internationals "before he played one good one, at least according to the media."

It took Paul Grayson 19 games less than that to make his mark. He had roomed in the week with his partner, Matt Dawson, and admitted: "Neither of us slept particularly well."

Grayson said he needed to put a bit of weight on and gain an extra yard of pace. What some of his team-mates need to do is lose some weight. The cutting edge is blunt and England were incapable of creating a clear overlap even when the occasion almost demanded it. Passes were either badly timed or misdirected.

If England's passing was poor, Western Samoa's kicking was diabolical. They invariably failed to find touch and while coaching the Samoans must be akin to teaching a St Trinian's class at finishing school, the first thing they should be taught is: do not kick. They get precious little possession anyway and are far more dangerous with the ball in hand.

They managed to draw against Scotland despite a penalty count against them of 17-3 and on Saturday the South African Ian Rogers also clobbered them. Rogers was so pedantic and so blind to the possibility of playing advantage that there were times when he did England no favours, even when awarding them a penalty.

Western Samoa believe, with some justification, that their reputation, particularly for head hunting, precedes them. Jim Fleming, for example, a touch judge on Saturday, blasted them off Ellis Park in their World Cup quarter-final against South Africa.

When Rogers refereed the North-Midlands match recently there were tries galore and he hardly blew for anything. "This time," he explained, "there were different players with different attitudes."

It was not a good week for referees at Twickenham. On Tuesday Tony Spreadbury awarded Cambridge a penalty try in the Varsity match against Oxford for what he claimed was persistent offside.

Had Rogers adopted the same criteria there could have been similar awards on Saturday. Cambridge were frustrated, not so much by illegal defence as their own poor handling and passing and the same goes for England.

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