Rugby Union: To drop Carling might seem harsh, as he has not been having the easiest of times, but De Glanville is entitled to justice too

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Jack Rowell has always impressed me as a sensitive soul who conceals his shyness behind a certain brutal jocularity and a series of jokes that are slightly above the heads of his audience. I cannot imagine he likes being jeered - which of us does - as he was at Leicester last Saturday.

Geoff Cooke, to the best of my knowledge, was never the object of the scorn of the mob. But then, Cooke's team had never, I think, lost three matches in succession, as Rowell's side have - against New Zealand, France and South Africa.

Against New Zealand, they were confronted by a better side and a force of nature in Jonah Lomu. Against France, in the play-off for third place in the World Cup, they didn't seem to be trying very hard: an impression which was subsequently confirmed by the statements of some of the players concerned.

While against South Africa they were dispirited, playing a side who were well below their best but who would have won by 25 points if Joel Stransky had been in normal kicking form. I have compiled a class-list of the England players in that match:

Good to excellent: Martin Bayfield, Ben Clarke, Lawrence Dallaglio, Phil de Glanville, Jeremy Guscott, Damian Hopley, Martin Johnson and Mark Regan.

Fair to middling: Kyran Bracken, Jonathan Callard, Will Carling, Jason Leonard, Andy Robinson and Victor Ubogu.

Poor to shocking: Mike Catt, Tim Rodber and Rory Underwood.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair to put Callard in the second division. He place-kicked better than Stransky, and in many other respects played a normal Callard game. Alas, he is able to show a speed and penetration with Bath which elude him with England.

Paul Hull - perhaps the unluckiest player in English rugby - has demonstrated these qualities at the highest level. But he is not a recognised place- kicker. Mike Catt could assume these essential duties if he were retained at outside-half.

Alternatively, a place-kicking outside half could be brought in, such as Paul Grayson or David Pears - unless he is in one of his sadly regular states of injury. This would provide the option of moving Catt to his former England position of full-back.

The difficulty is mainly self- inflicted. It arises from first playing Catt out of his club position, and in not securing adequate cover for Rob Andrew. Quite apart from his move to Newcastle, it was evident that Andrew was going to retire before long, yet little was done to promote a successor.

However, the threequarter prospects look brighter. Hopley impressed the television viewers more, perhaps, than he did those who were at Twickenham. This was because his spirit and determination were apparent on the screen, whereas his lack of true pace was not. Still, those former qualities are not in such generous supply that Rowell can afford to discard them.

In the centre, there is now a clear case for playing the Bath combination of De Glanville and Guscott, whose return to something like their old form has not been celebrated as joyfully as it should. To drop Carling might seem harsh, particularly as he has not been having the easiest of times lately, but then De Glanville is entitled to justice too.

Rory Underwood, great wing though he was, has been asleep once too often, and should depart to make way for either his brother, Tony, Adedayo Adebayo, Jon Sleight-holme, or that curiously neglected figure Steve Hackney.

Unlike many observers, I did not think Bracken had a particularly bad game against South Africa. He has been criticised for always passing to Catt, instead of kicking or making a break on his own. But scrum-halves are not there to be nursemaids. As Barry John once said to Gareth Edwards: "Just throw me the ball, and I'll catch it."

With the forwards, the problem - as it always seems to be these days - is the precise composition of the back row. There is, admittedly, a little trouble in the front row too: a case for moving Leonard to tight head and bringing in Graham Rowntree or even Kevin Yates on the other side. But with Clarke now assured of his favourite spot, the flankers are the worry.

I have never been able to understand why Wasps persist in playing Dallaglio at No 6. His speed, as he has shown in sevens particularly, make him a natural No 7, I should have thought. Now it turns out that he wants to play No 8.

Happily, Robinson provided one more demonstration of the modern truth that in international rugby short flankers sink beneath the waves. I should bring in Dallaglio at No 7 and give another chance to Steve Ojomoh, who has never yet let England down, at No 6. But I do not expect Rowell to play the slightest attention.