Martin Johnson believes England are on the right attacking track, despite their startling inability to win a serious game of rugby, so when he was pressed on the "flair" question during the week – why no Danny Cipriani or Mathew Tait in his starting line-up? Why no James Simpson-Daniel or Shane Geraghty? – he was rather dismissive in his response. "If you're talking about players who can beat people one on one, we have plenty of those in the team," the manager said, with a distinct edge to his tone.
It took just a little believing. Was he seriously suggesting that Andy Goode might shred an opposition midfield Cipriani-style, or that Mike Tindall rips into the enemy 22 with the élan of a Tait? Pray not. Perhaps he meant that the really dangerous broken-field runners also have a tendency to be broken-down runners. Regrettably, poor old Simpson-Daniel, an orthopaedic casebook in human form, provided Johnson with another reason to keep picking the steady brigade ahead of the quick one.
Gloucester, the Premiership leaders, were forced to omit their most inventive back from today's testing match at Leicester after Simpson-Daniel failed to recover from the side injury that brought a premature end to his virtuoso effort against Bath last weekend. The oft-stricken outside back, left out of the 2007 World Cup squad because the head coach Brian Ashton felt he could not trust him to stay fit, scored twice in four minutes during the West Country derby before heading for the treatment room. Olly Barkley, hardly the most settled member of the Kingsholm squad, replaces him against the Tigers.
Happily, there was better news of the others. Tait, patently the most threatening outside centre in the land, will play in his optimum position for Sale against Newcastle tomorrow, while Cipriani and Geraghty will go eyeball to eyeball in the Thames Valley face-off between Wasps and London Irish at Adams Park. Both have been in Johnson's bad books recently, the former because of his chronic chargedown problem and the latter for his yellow-card antics in the Six Nations opener against Italy. They have points to prove in this game. Lots of them.
At least Cipriani has his immediate future mapped out after months of contractual shenanigans. Wasps announced yesterday that he was one of 13 players to agree fresh terms – a one-year deal, in the case of the outside-half. Others, including Phil Vickery and Simon Shaw, have opted for a two-year arrangement, while Tom Rees has also signed for another couple of seasons. Even better, from England's perspective, is his return to the fray after an untimely bout of injury hassle.
Against significant odds, bottom-feeding Bristol have also managed to pull a trick or two on the contractual front, keeping hold of a number of decent players despite the likelihood of relegation to National Division One. Darren Crompton, the long-serving prop, committed himself to two more years yesterday – nice work if you can get it when you're 36.
Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union announced that Brian Smith, the England attack coach, had apologised for the sharp remarks he aimed at the South African referee Jonathan Kaplan following the Six Nations defeat in Wales, remarks that earned him a rebuke from the International Rugby Board. "Jonathan is one of the best referees in the world and I'm sure we'll continue to have a healthy working relationship," Smith said. Of course, the apology was entirely his idea and he spoke with complete sincerity.Reuse content