Rugby Union: Settled Hull is helpful

Click to follow
The Independent Online
No doubt it was wise of Jack Rowell to say beforehand that no one's place was safe and that every position could be contested. That is what is called 'motivation' these days. In reality, it was largely persiflage.

Not only is Rowell correct to persist with players who, under Geoff Cooke, were partially responsible for England's longest period of more or less continuous success since the 1920s. He would also have found it difficult to replace most of them with adequate substitutes. As the South African tour demonstrated, England's strength in depth is more apparent than real.

The brightest spot is Rowell's persistence with Paul Hull at full- back. He is one of those players too versatile for his own good. It is excellent news that he is now settled at full-back.

This, I have noticed in the last few years, is the position where most fast, ball-playing backs now want to play. In this respect, it has taken over from centre and from outside-half.

Hull's selection means there is no place for Jonathan Callard. If Callard had been picked, he would presumably have done the place- kicking. That task now falls to Rob Andrew. By now, he is experienced at it. He has never let England down.

But what would happen if he were injured and had to go off? Almost certainly Mike Catt would come on instead. Certainly, Catt has done some place-kicking for Bath. But his opportunities have been restricted by Callard and, until this season, Stuart Barnes. I would have picked as a replacement Jez Harris or Paul Grayson, each a place-kicking specialist, to act as an insurance against injury to Andrew.

The forwards were always going to provide more room for selectorial manoeuvre. Rowell has left the front row as it is. Brian Moore has not yet had to make way for an older man in the form of Graham Dawe, who is a replacement. Graham Rowntree, a replacement likewise, deserved on current form to supplant Jason Leonard at loose head.

There were those, myself included, who favoured placing Leonard on the other side, where he had played with complete competence for the Lions in New Zealand. Instead, Rowell has persisted with Victor Ubogu at tight head. This would have been more defensible if Ubogu had been playing regularly in that position for Bath.

But he has not. Bath wanted to move him to loose head. He acquiesced with as good a grace as he could muster in the circumstances, but on Saturday against Leicester he popped up again at tight head.

It is often asserted that Bath operate a 'squad' or a 'rota' system. This is not so. Leicester have such an arrangement, preferring to call it a squad system. Bath do not. I know that Simon Geoghegan is said not to be match fit. But I feel if Bath did operate such a system we should have seen a lot more of him than we have. Instead, Tony Swift and Adedayo Adebayo have been preferred virtually every Saturday.

It may plausibly be argued that an English club owe no responsibility to Ireland. But do they not owe some duty to England? Steve Ojomoh provides an illustration. He prefers to play at No 8. Bath have included him as a No 6, 7 or 8 - or not at all. More recently, he has tended to contest the No 7 position with Andy Robinson (though Bath confusingly put their No 7s in a No 6 jersey).

England now pick him ahead of Robinson and other specialist flankers such as Lawrence Dallaglio, of Wasps. But Dallaglio, probably the fastest forward in English rugby, plays No 6 for his club, in spite of requests from England to play him at No 7. This demonstrates that club selfishness is not confined to Bath.

Rowell is now, I see, trying to play down that no England player should turn out for his club on the Saturday immediately before an international. Some players, however, prefer to do so. One of them is Dean Richards, who will, I predict, be back, together with Nigel Redman, before the season is out. In these circumstances, Rowell should respect the players' wishes.

But what if the club decide the player should play? That is quite different.

I wonder whether Rowell himself, when he was the Bath coach, stood his England players down on the Saturday before an international. I do not know the answer to this. I merely ask.

Comments