Rugby Union: The day Perry matched a genius

Tim Glover admires the talent of an English back not overawed by greatness
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The Independent Online
The future's bright. The future's white? New Zealand, for the first time on this tour, looked more grey than All Black but it is still a measure of the reputation of the side that England regarded this defeat as a moral victory.

There was also a measure of the footballing talent of Matt Perry that he lost nothing in comparison to Christian Cullen. The heat was on in the kitchen and the Cullenary skills of the player regarded as the fullest of fullbacks, produced morsels but not the main course.

Professional sport is in the entertainment business and the All Blacks realise that Cullen is one of their men with the hat and cane. Perhaps it is asking too much of a 21-year-old to be infallible but Cullen's refusal to do what nearly every other full-back in the world has always done, think defensively when in defence, cannot be criticised from the terraces.

When he took what appeared to be a near suicidal reverse pass a few yards from his own line very early in the game, he didn't kick to touch - he beat two men. You can put your mortgage on Cullen beating at least one in whatever position but the biggest criticism of him, as when he was tackled in full flight by Mike Catt, is that the ball remains under his arm and is not kept alive.

Perry, who is even younger, was almost faultless. His positional play was excellent as was his handling, kicking and tackling. On the one occasion England worked him clear, he hesitated slightly and looked for support, something that would never have crossed Cullen's mind.

Perry also produced a try- saving tackle on Justin Marshall. If England paid a huge penalty for not having a professional goal-kicker, this was one Test where the All Blacks clearly missed their captain, Sean Fitzpatrick.

Not only did Norm Hewitt, Fitzpatrick's replacement, make a complete fool of himself in the haka but Marshall, leading the side, had a most frustrating afternoon. He was too hesitant and too slow in thought and deed.

Which brings us to the England stand-off. If a cat can look at a king, can Mike Catt ever look like Alex King, Clive Woodward's first choice? Catt did some fine things but the fact remains that, at goal, it looked as if he was kicking a fur ball. At Old Trafford it was as if Ryan Giggs was regularly missing from the penalty spot.

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