Rugby Union: The deficiencies of efficiency

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The Independent Online
POST-MATCH press conferences at the Parc des Princes are held in a small cinema below ground, appropriate as one cynic put it, to the brand of rugby that brought England their seventh successive victory over France.

Of course, there is more than one way of looking at these things, but the thoughts that sprang to mind had no affinity with the romance of Paris in the springtime, dappled sunshine, barely a breath of wind. 'Perfect for rugby,' said a former England international.

The thoughts were those most commonly associated with the modern direction of team games. Above all the efficiency that was central to England's efforts. Fine as a part, challengable as a whole. Non-risk, result rugby. Efficiency and Rob Andrew's cool-headed accuracy.

In five games England have not crossed the try line. In calendar terms it is a year. Not once in Paris did they threaten to put points on the board from a passing movement. Now victory by 16 clear points over Wales at Twickenham would bring them the Five Nations' Championship. Play for position and Andrew's boot? Think of an English hero this season and you come up with a kicker.

Since not one of England's principals wore a smile when they came to be interrogated you could sense that past experiences had them on the defensive. Victory even in Paris was not being accepted at face value. 'The object is to put more points on the board than the opposition,' said England's manager, Geoff Cooke.

For the majority who made the cross-channel trip, victory was enough. Yet in the bellowed strains of their battle hymn, 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot', there was not the exultancy of that Twickenham triumph against the All Blacks. Deep down they wanted more, a touch of style and enterprise. Something to shout about other than the admirable qualities that carried England through. 'We defended well, especially in the first half, and Andrew was tremendous, but. . .' said a man at the airport.

No simple patriot this, but a student of the game. 'I hesitate to knock England's performance because there was a lot to admire in their concentration and discipline,' he added. 'But you sit there wondering when they are

going to excite you. Jeremy Guscott did and he is missed, but it's the negative attitude most evident in the way the backs align themselves so deep that's disappointing.'

What would have been England's response had the French taken full advantage of the territorial gains they made in the first half? Adventure or simply more of the same in the hope that they could get themselves back into the game?

But then Cooke and the England coach, Dick Best, do not deal in hypotheses. They had produced a winning team and victory was achieved from a fully committed response to supplied information.

When asked about England's forthcoming encounter against Wales, the French coach, Pierre Berbezier said: 'I hope rugby will be the winner.' It sounded as though he was being tactful to an extreme.