Dashing Dawson not ready for retirement yet

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The Independent Online

Dawson has gloried in the nickname "dust-mite" for his under-the-skin tendencies - a gnawing annoyance to friend and foe by all objective accounts - but at 33 he is unready to be swept under the carpet. Until his unexpected moment of contrition yesterday, when all around were raging at the All Blacks' spoiling tactics, Dawson was his customary yappy-clappy self. When Lewis wasn't getting an earful, the nearest touch judge was. What England's supporters badly needed to know - last week against Australia and this - is whether Dawson can walk the walk as well as shout the odds midway through the cycle towards the next World Cup.

Certainly his passing was up to scratch: a short-side snap to Pat Sanderson which freed the flanker to charge up the left-hand touchline; a longer delivery to Charlie Hodgson to maximise the position behind a stolen All Black line-out.

At closer quarters, the verdict is more equivocal. England's scrummage stood for long seconds, muscles straining, while Dawson delayed his put-in. There was similar hesitation at the ruck which was hardly going to help an already ponderous England midfield. A misjudgement, too, in harassing the New Zealand No 8, Rodney So'oialo, which allowed Dan Carter to restore the tourists' 10-point lead 11 minutes into the second half.

If England had a longer queue of scrum-half contenders, Dawson might already have followed his All Black counterpart, Justin Marshall, into international retirement. But Kyran Bracken gave up on Tests last year, and Andy Gomarsall does not seem to be the coach Andy Robinson's idea of a No 9. And although Harry Ellis started four of the five matches in last season's Six Nations Championship, the Leicester tiro's lack of discipline has seen him slip back again.

Beyond that, Peter Richards, of Gloucester, and Shaun Perry, of Bristol, have their backers, but the conservative Robinson was more likely to hand back his OBE than cap them in these heavyweight autumn matches.

It does not matter a great deal if Dawson - three Lions tours and 72 England caps behind him - secretly fancies himself as a national treasure. He admits to nurturing his profile as a team captain on A Question of Sport, although his cheekie chappie act is different to the comfy armchair style of Cliff Morgan, Gareth Edwards and Bill Beaumont, his rugby predecessors on the programme.

Simply as the most capped member of this transitional England side, Dawson continues to demand respect. And with this performance he just about deserved it. With 10 minutes remaining he hacked a loose ball upfield and tore after it as if he was back on the fields of his youth. In the chase, as in England's pursuit of an upset win, he fell short. But while the game at large for a myriad reasons throws up no one fit to take away his jersey, Dawson intends to be around for the World Cup in France in 2007. He might just win that particular race after all.

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