Dallaglio 'talked his way back' to England

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The Independent Online

"There are not many players in international sport who could talk themselves back into the national squad like Lawrence," said Rowntree, rather pointedly, referring to the celebrated Wasp's much-discussed return to red rose duty after a lengthy spell of apparent retirement. "I love him to bits and he is a great player, but the whole scenario with the press, people talking about him every day, almost forced him into the squad. For me, that was disappointing."

Warming to his theme, Rowntree also expressed disappointment at the decision of Andy Robinson, the England coach, to summon Dallaglio from the bench in Corry's stead during the final quarter of last weekend's big Six Nations victory over Wales at Twickenham.

"He could have put Lawrence on at blind-side flanker," Rowntree remarked. "He had played there for his club the week before. Still, if Martin keeps his head down and does as good a job as he has been doing, he will have no need to worry about Lawrence being on his shoulder all the time. Mentally, he is exceptionally strong."

Speaking at the England base in Surrey ahead of Saturday's meeting with Italy in Rome, Corry did not know whether to laugh or cry as the D-word reared its head once again, from a quarter so close to his sporting heart. In the event, he settled for a brief grimace, an ironic smile and some high-quality diplomacy.

"Graham's a top man," the captain responded. "He says what he thinks and he's entitled to his opinion.

"For my part, I have absolutely no issue with anything going on within the England squad. When a player with Lawrence's background returns to the scene, it's big news and is bound to generate a lot of comment. But I repeat, I have no issue with it.

"We're trying to encourage competition for every place and having Lawrence around is certainly enough to keep me on my toes," Corry added. "Apart from that, I don't know what to say."

There will come a point, probably sooner rather than later, when Robinson will reach a conclusion about what to say, and say it at considerable volume. The coach has had his ups and downs with Dallaglio in the past, but has come to respect the Londoner as a world-class talent with commitment and enthusiasm to match. However, he has little or no time for media-driven celebrity worship - a phenomenon that has guaranteed Dallaglio more than his fair share of recent headlines. The last rugby player to be treated with such reverence was Jonny Wilkinson, and if the obsession with the Newcastle outside-half caused Charlie Hodgson to have a bad time, it drove Robinson to the point of apoplexy.

Time and again, the coach has reiterated that Corry is the England captain for the duration of the current tournament, and with the Leicester man in tip-top form despite operating with damaged ribs, there is not even a distant possibility of him losing his place. If Dallaglio is to start at No 8 in the foreseeable future, it will be as a result of a drastic loss of form by his rival or, more likely, an injury.

Corry considers himself fully fit for the forthcoming contest at Stadio Flaminio, where he expects the Azzurri to give his increasingly confident team the most thorough of examinations. "I said before the start of the tournament that we're looking at a really tight Six Nations, and last weekend bore that out," he warned. "With Italy, it used to be a case that if you stopped their pack, you stopped them entirely. In Dublin in the opening match, they showed how much more they've put on their game."