England's great leaps forward in the Test arena have not been blindingly obvious this season – to most eyes, they have taken a series of small steps backwards – and their work in the scrum, the very foundation of their game, has been particularly unimpressive. This might be about to change, just in time for the build-up to next year's World Cup. The Bath prop David Flatman, last capped in 2002, has recovered from his latest injury hassle and is ready to challenge for a place on next month's five-match trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Indisputably the most effective loose-head scummager currently available to the national team – his rejection by the manager Martin Johnson has been one of the mysteries of the age – Flatman has been struggling with a biceps problem in recent weeks. But Steve Meehan, the Bath coach, confirmed yesterday that the 30-year-old forward would "play a part" in this weekend's Premiership meeting with Leeds, which the West Countrymen must win to secure a place in the semi-finals.
Assuming Flatman is still in one piece on Saturday evening, he will stand an excellent chance of being named in the 44-man England tour party when Johnson reveals his hand next week, especially with captain Steve Borthwick having failed to recover from his knee injury. Indeed, his re-emergence might solve a serious issue for the selectors, who have failed to fill the front-row gap left by Andrew Sheridan and his busted shoulder. The Sale prop, inconsistent but highly destructive on his day, has not played international rugby since helping the British and Irish Lions to victory over the Springboks in Johannesburg 10 months ago.
Remarkably, given the late stage of the campaign, Bath have all but two of their senior squad available for selection this weekend. But then, pretty much everything about their season falls into the "remarkable" category. Destabilised by the drugs-related scandals of the 2008-09 campaign, they prevailed in only one of their first 10 Premiership matches this term. Yet they are now on the kind of run that earns titles, having won 10 of their last 11 league fixtures.
So what happened? "It's very difficult to identify any particular act or particular moment as the thing that made the difference," Meehan said. "There were a few minor adjustments in training, but nothing much. People might point to Butch James and Olly Barkley returning from long-term injury, but we also had Luke Watson come in from South Africa and he's brought a lot of self-belief, confidence and energy to the side. Add to that the fact that Lee Mears and Joe Maddock have found some form and that Nick Abendanon has been a different player since agreeing new terms here and you have a range of explanations as to why things have picked up.
"I guess the crucial thing was that when things were going wrong, we didn't panic. Have I ever experienced such shade and light in a season? Never. Has it been the most testing campaign of my career? Yes. There's no doubting that. The last 12 months have been incredible. But when you go through something like this, you get to understand yourself a little bit better. I know more now than I did a year ago."
Worcester, who started the campaign on an even keel but have won only once since September, say the former England outside-half Andy Goode will stick with his decision to join the club next season, despite their impending drop to the Championship.
Meanwhile, two Worcester flankers, Chris Cracknell and James Collins, will face a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel next Tuesday after being charged in connection with an incident involving their fathers following defeat in the relegation decider at Leeds 11 days ago. Cracknell is accused of dragging a spectator over an advertising hoarding, while Collins faces an accusation of swearing at a supporter.Reuse content