Dallaglio doubt deepens England worries

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The Independent Online

England have quite enough on their collective plate without losing their proud and determined captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, for important training sessions in the build-up to this weekend's grand - or, judging by the performances in All Black country, not so grand - tour finale against the Wallabies. But they lost him yesterday. Dallaglio aggravated an old hand injury during last Saturday's defeat by New Zealand in Auckland and was in sufficient discomfort to make his apologies and view the latest preparations from the touchline.

England have quite enough on their collective plate without losing their proud and determined captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, for important training sessions in the build-up to this weekend's grand ­ or, judging by the performances in All Black country, not so grand ­ tour finale against the Wallabies. But they lost him yesterday. Dallaglio aggravated an old hand injury during last Saturday's defeat by New Zealand in Auckland and was in sufficient discomfort to make his apologies and view the latest preparations from the touchline.

He insisted he would be fit to take his place in the back row on Saturday. "At my age, you're keen to play every Test match available to you," said the 31-year-old No 8. He also predicted that Mike Tindall, Trevor Woodman and Richard Hill would recover from sundry bumps and bashes to join him in the starting line-up. All the same, England would have preferred to have trained with Dallaglio rather than without him, not least because the Wallabies, at full strength with the return of Matt Giteau in midfield, are getting sharper by the day, if the intelligence from their camp at Coff's Harbour is reliable.

Dallaglio seemed unusually subdued yesterday; certainly, he was not in the tub-thumping mood of a week ago, when he saw fit to stoke the fires ahead of the second meeting with the All Blacks. But that was a different Test, against opponents posing different problems. England were far from convinced of their ability to beat New Zealand, especially after suffering such a roasting in Dunedin, but they are damned sure they can beat the Wallabies if they reduce their error count.

"The scoreboard at Eden Park last Saturday recorded a handsome win for the All Blacks, but our energy levels and attitude were outstanding, especially after seeing Simon Shaw sent off so early in the game," the captain said. "If we can repeat those positive aspects of our game while cutting down our mistakes, we'll have a strong chance of winning here. The All Blacks played very well, but we made life easy for them with uncharacteristic errors ­ reckless kicks, missed tackles, turnovers. We need to inject some intensity into our attacking game, and we can only do that by getting our basics right."

Perhaps the most basic of all basics is to play the full 80 minutes with 15 players on the field, something England signally failed to do in Auckland. Shaw, dismissed in the 11th minute for striking his opposite number, Keith Robinson, with his knee but then acquitted on a technicality, is expected not only to resume his role in the engine-room of the scrum, but to play the entire match. This, as he was quick to acknowledge yesterday, would help matters no end.

"It was massively frustrating to sit on the touchline and watch the blokes battle so bravely, without being in a position to do anything constructive," he said. "Am I down about the incident? I'd rather it hadn't happened, obviously, but I'm happy in my own mind that there was nothing malicious in what I did. I know I'm not a dirty player, so I don't see any reason to change the way I operate."

* New Zealand have asked the International Rugby Board to consider whether the England coach, Clive Woodward, breached the IRB's Code of Conduct when criticising match officials after his side's 36-12 loss to the All Blacks on Saturday. The NZRU have sent the IRB a video of Woodward's post-match news conference.

* Martin Johnson has escaped serious injury after the car he was driving collided with another vehicle in the New Zealand province of Waikato. The former England captain was driving two friends to a reunion with his former team-mates when the accident happened in the Kaimai Ranges, near Hamilton, during a freak hailstorm. Although Johnson's hire car suffered extensive damage, he was not injured. Johnson is in New Zealand on a speaking tour.

AUSTRALIA V ENGLAND (Brisbane, Saturday): J Roff; W Sailor, S Mortlock, M Giteau, L Tuqiri; S Larkham, G Gregan (captain); B Young, B Cannon, A Baxter, J Harrison, N Sharpe, R Samo, P Waugh, D Lyons. Replacements: M Dunning, J Paul, D Vickerman, G Smith, C Rathbone, M Gerrard, C Latham.

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