There was a good deal of fighting talk from the England camp yesterday, which contrasted sharply with the amount of fight shown in the heavy defeat by the All Blacks in Auckland last weekend. Rob Andrew's venomous line about the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw – "I'll give him an England shirt, so at least he'll be wearing the right colour when he comes in on our side of the ruck" – was calculated to cause maximum offence.
Andrew was in decent form, all things considered: the acting head coach turned his attention to what he felt was questionable refereeing of the set pieces at Eden Park before moving on to the three on-field officials' abject failure to spot forward passes, which he deemed responsible for two of the tries conceded.
"That was unfortunate," he said, before adding, with rich sarcasm, that he had "not heard anyone here complain about forward passes since Saturday".
This was a reference to the New Zealanders' continuing beef with the French try that dumped them out of the World Cup last October and the endless verbal assaults on Wayne Barnes, the Englishman who refereed that quarter-final in Cardiff.
The coach confirmed that Andrew Sheridan would miss the forthcoming game in Christchurch because of the 12-stitch eye injury he suffered in Auckland. Sheridan was caught by the boot of his front-row colleague Lee Mears at a collapsed scrum.
"I don't think I've ever seen stitches so close to a player's eye," said Sheridan's fellow prop, Matt Stevens. "The injury is right on the cornea. You see all sorts of horrible things in this game, but this is a nasty one." The Leicester lock Ben Kay was less illuminating. "I didn't see how it occurred," he said. "I don't get to see much of anything, scrummaging behind Matt Stevens' arse. I think it's probably a wise move to keep him out of this game, though. The skin around the eye is pretty fragile, and there's not much sense asking someone to start a game if the wound is going to open immediately."
Tim Payne, the Wasps loose head, is the obvious replacement – "I think you can take it Tim will play," Andrew said – and England have Jason Hobson, the tight head from Bristol, to sit on the bench. But they need a fourth prop, even though this trip has only days to run. Consequently, they have summoned the uncapped Newcastle Falcon David Wilson from Canada and the second-string Saxons team.
England's set piece must improve. Stevens said as much in accepting the lion's share of the blame for the problems early in the game, when the All Blacks wheeled the tourists' scrum at will. "We're not ecstatic about what happened," the Bath prop said. "They won the hit in the first two scrums and we didn't front up. But we worked it out, I think, and I certainly don't agree with New Zealand's claims that we were taking the scrums to ground in the second half. Those scrums that hit the ground were the ones where we won the hit, not them. I really don't know where they're coming from on this issue."
Andrew remains unsure as to where Nigel Owens, the Welsh referee, was coming from in his management of the scrums. Prevented from questioning officials before Test matches – the International Rugby Board ended coaches' ante-post access to referees when it decided there was too much badgering going on – he has only one course of action left to him: a full and frank discussion with Paddy O'Brien, who manages the whistling community. Frustratingly, O'Brien is in Wales, watching the Junior World Cup.
While Andrew believes the ban on pre-match contact to be "correct", he still has his concerns.
"I was a bit surprised to discover that Nigel Owens was in the All Blacks' hotel before the Auckland game," he said. "Maybe that is an administrative issue that could be looked at by someone."Reuse content