England selectors used to throw out the baby with the bath water - not to mention the bath itself, brass taps and all - in the aftermath of every defeat, however narrow. They saw it as their purpose in life. Andy Robinson has been known to keep faith with tradition on occasion, but yesterday the head coach turned away from 1970s-style clear-outs, despite the record beating his team received from New Zealand at Twickenham on Sunday. Fourteen of that starting line-up will face Argentina this weekend, and had the Sale prop Andrew Sheridan not picked up a minor back problem the team would probably have been retained en bloc.
Perry Freshwater, the New Zealand-born front-rower whose father worked as a barrow boy in London's East End before falling in love with the Land of the Long White Cloud during a visit with the Merchant Navy, is the one newcomer. The 33-year-old loose-head has been playing in France with Perpignan since 2003 and knows as much as anyone about the world-renowned Puma scrummagers, most of whom also earn their corn in Le Championnat. "They'll come out all guns blazing," he said yesterday. "If Omar Hasan doesn't play, it will be Martin Scelzo. If it's not Scelzo, they'll find some other 20st bloke from somewhere. They're all good."
Robinson is hoping the tourists are not that good, for he would kill for a resounding victory after six consecutive defeats, four of them serious hidings. Worryingly, the South Americans show every sign of being very accomplished indeed. There may be no money in Argentine rugby, hence the sporting exodus to Europe from Buenos Aires and Cordoba and Tucuman, but there is a growing acknowledgement that the Pumas are significantly better than their world ranking of eighth. As England thoroughly justify their own position of sixth, this one is too close to call.
The whiff of peril surrounding the game explains Robinson's reluctance to tinker around with his formation. The side he put out against the All Blacks was the best available to him, and he detected enough resilience in their second-half performance to stick to his guns. While there is some experimentation on the bench - the young Newcastle midfielder Toby Flood is involved for the first time, alongside Josh Lewsey and Tom Palmer of Wasps - this selection is primarily geared towards continuity.
In the case of Anthony Allen, the 20-year-old Gloucester centre who made his debut against the New Zealanders and handed them two tries on a plate, it is a common-sense approach. Not simply because Allen showed sufficient attacking initiative to suggest he has a rich future in international rugby, but because any repeat of the Mathew Tait incident in 2004 would have been unforgiveable. Tait was dumped clean out of the squad after a narrow Six Nations defeat in Cardiff and took an age to recover his confidence. England are not so awash with footballing talent that they can afford to play fast and loose with the best of it.
"On Sunday, he [Allen] showed an ability to put mistakes behind him and move on," Robinson said yesterday. "Some of the things he did were out of the top drawer and by performing as he did in that challenging environment he emerged in credit. Anyway, he wasn't alone in making mistakes. The All Blacks scored 41 points, only 17 of which they crafted themselves. We gave them the other 24. We have to learn that every play counts."
While Robinson was busily shoring up the ruins, his New Zealand counterparts were indulging themselves by replacing two-thirds of their side for the meeting with France in Lyon on Saturday evening and coming up with a combination every bit as exceptional as the one that graced Twickenham. Back come Jerry Collins and Rodney So'oialo, two first-choice loose forwards; in come the brilliant outside centre Conrad Smith and the devastating Fijian-born winger Sitiveni Sivivatu.
And the French? They were in fighting mood, pointing a direct finger or two in the direction of the All Blacks' questionable scrummaging habits while wondering aloud whether Richie McCaw, the New Zealand captain, was entirely legitimate in his approach to business.
"They try to outsmart the referees at set-pieces and rucks and they benefit from a lot of indulgence," said Jacques Brunel, the assistant coach. "We have the feeling it's not the referee who is giving the calls at the scrums. The All Blacks impose their own rhythm."
Brunel was just as critical of McCaw, in a respectful kind of way. "He is a wonderful player," the coach admitted, "but to be the great scavenger he is he has to be on the verge of foul play. He gets three or four penalties against him per game, but he should get double."
(v Argentina, Twickenham, Saturday, 2.30pm)
I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), A Allen (Gloucester), B Cohen (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale), S Perry (Bristol); P Freshwater (Perpignan), G Chuter, J White (both Leicester), D Grewcock (Bath), B Kay, M Corry (capt), L Moody (all Leicester), P Sanderson (Worcester). Replacements: L Mears (Bath), S Turner (Sale), T Palmer (Wasps), M Lund (Sale), P Richards (Gloucester), T Flood (Newcastle), J Lewsey (Wasps).Reuse content