Callard crew shows the true spirit of togetherness
England Saxons 23 Ireland Wolfhounds 17
The last time Jon Callard found himself in charge of rugby business at a senior level, as opposed to running England age-group teams or struggling to build a career as a specialist kicking coach in the face of Jonny Wilkinson's iron refusal to work with anyone except Dave Alred, he fell victim to the bitching, the backbiting and the peculiarly restless form of claustrophobia that is never far below the surface at a small-town, big-noise club like Bath. By emerging from the shadows and restoring himself to full view in Devon at the weekend, he gave the movers and shakers at Twickenham another reminder that the southern hemisphere does not have a monopoly on coaching talent.
When Martin Johnson made the entirely sensible decision to resign as England manager after the World Cup mess last autumn, a headlong rush to sign a big hitter from one of the three Sanzar nations – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – seemed inevitable, and it may be that by the end of March, a Nick Mallett or a Wayne Smith (or even both) will have been handed the task of recapturing the Webb Ellis Cup on the playing fields of Blighty itself in 2015. But there are some Englishmen here and there who are dead set on complicating the issue: Stuart Lancaster, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell to name but three. And Callard, to name a fourth.
Callard as head coach? Probably not this side of eternity. But that's not the point. The most intriguing aspect of current life at red-rose level is its high-spiritedness – an air of "all in it togetherness" that seems just a little more persuasive and infinitely more real than David Cameron's version. It is both a sharp reaction to the buttoned-up, joyless, do-as-you're-damned-well-told environment of the previous three and a half years and a blessedly welcome one. The tone has been set by Lancaster and happily embraced by Callard, whose contrary streak as a full-back was never more than skin deep and tended to disappear the moment he had an after-match pint in his hand.
"What impressed me most," he said, following his Saxons side's morale-boosting win against a dangerous Irish second string in Exeter, "was the endeavour shown by the players. Heart and desire? They had it in bucketloads. And I liked the fact that Stuart, Graham and Andy were all watching, although I'm not happy that Rowntree nicked my coat.
"They're only a week away from the first Six Nations game, but they're passionate and they wanted to be here. That's massive, because like any business, the tone is set from the top. It rubs off on the players, especially when it comes to making the last tackle, the last-ditch effort."
Much of that effort was of what might be called the "middle-ditch" variety, for after a confident start that yielded a try for the inexperienced Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer following excellent approach work from the eye-catching Worcester prop Matt Mullan, the Saxons found themselves doing an awful lot of work without the ball. Fortunately for them, there was no one in the Wolfhounds midfield capable of pulling strings the way the Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns pulled them on behalf of the home side. All the same, the one-sidedness of the second quarter might have broken a less cohesive unit.
Having reached the interval 10-5 to the good – the Wolfhounds responded to Spencer's score with a fine one of their own, David Kearney gathering an inside pass from Eoin O'Malley – the Saxons used the 15-minute breather to greater effect and began the second half in much the same way as they had started the first. Their reward for the scrummaging dominance established by Mullan and Paul Doran-Jones was a second try, completed by Thomas Waldrom from a Burns toe-poke that ricocheted into the No 8's grateful clutches.
"It didn't go quite as planned, but Freddie's option was still the right one," said Callard who, like many other coaches, believes Burns has the skill-set to make something of himself at representative level. "Had the execution been perfect, Billy Twelvetrees would have been in under the posts. Either way, it was an important score."
Burns will no doubt agree. A little like Napoleon and his generals, a No 10 with a lucky streak is worth his weight in gold.
Even though the hard-bitten little Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary levelled the try-count from close range just shy of the hour – and even though a hot-shot wing from the same province, Simon Zebo, claimed a consolation touchdown deep in injury time – the Saxons were good winners. Mullan, one of the men on Johnson's radar until injury hassles knocked him back down the front-row pecking order, was particularly impressive, and there were some interesting contributions from the Saracens flanker Andy Saull, a natural breakaway of the kind not currently resident in the senior squad.
"I think I've tightened up my game since Andy Farrell sat me down and told me to cut down on the errors," Saull said. "I was very raw a couple of seasons ago. I always thought I could throw the miracle pass, the magic offload – that I could win the game in a single phase. I'm more consistent now, but having said that, if the chance of a run arises I still want to be the guy, 100 per cent. My game is about energy and enthusiasm. I don't want to lose those things."
The way Lancaster is going about his work – and, by extension, Callard too – there is not much chance of that happening. Thank the Lord.
Scorers: England Saxons: Tries: Spencer, Waldrom. Conversions: Burns 2. Penalties: Burns 3. Ireland Wolfhounds: Tries: Kearney, O'Leary, Zebo. Conversion: Madigan.
England Saxons: D Armitage (London Irish); U Monye (Harlequins), M Hopper (Harlequins), W Twelvetrees (Leicester), M Banahan (Bath); F Burns (Gloucester), B Spencer (Saracens); M Mullan (Worcester), J Gray (Harlequins), P Doran-Jones (Northampton), M Garvey (London Irish), G Robson (Harlequins), J Gaskell (Sale, capt), A Saull (Saracens), T Waldrom (Leicester). Replacements: K Myall (Sale) for Garvey, 46; J May (Gloucester) for Banahan, 59; C Brooker (Harlequins) for Gray, 59; P Hodgson (L Irish) for Spencer, 65; T Johnson (Exeter) for Saull, 69.
Ireland Wolfhounds: G Duffy (Connacht); D Kearney (Leinster), E O'Malley (Leinster), N Spence (Ulster), S Zebo (Munster); I Keatley (Munster), I Boss (Leinster); B Wilkinson (Connacht), D Varley (Munster), S Archer (Munster), D Tuohy (Ulster), M McCarthy (Connacht), J Muldoon (Connacht), C Henry (Ulster, capt), R Ruddock (Leinster). Replacements: I Madigan (Leinster) for Keatley, 51; T O'Leary (Munster) for Boss, 51; D Hurley (Munster) for Duffy, 54; R Loughney (Connacht) for Wilkinson, 59; D Toner (Leinster) for McCarthy, 61; M Sherry (Munster) for Varley, 65; K McLaughlin (L'nster) for Muldoon, 65;
Referee: C Marchat (France).
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