Dawson revels in 'fine-tuning'

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The Independent Online

As far as Brad Johnstone is concerned the confrontation between England and Italy on Saturday is Robocops II. As coach of Fiji, that is what the gruff New Zealander dubbed Martin Johnson and his men after the South Sea Islanders had been seen off in last year's World Cup quarter-final play-off.

Johnstone accused England of being predictable, robotic. But now they take the field under a new captain and have grasped the principles of Clive Woodward's expansive approach to produce a brand of rugby against Wales that was breathtaking at times.

Matt Dawson, who took over the leadership from Johnson when the Leicester lock was ruled out of the start of the inaugural Six Nations by injury, admitted yesterday: "At the time it was a case of let him think that and we will get on and play the game. As it was, when you look back at the videos I think we probably were a little too predictable.

"And I have to put my hand up, because I was part of that decision-making and we were predictable, but it was a harsh lesson to learn at that time,and we would rather have learned it before the World Cup. But we have to get on and certainly that part of our game was learned that we can't afford to be very structured and 'Robocops'. England's style has changed now. The pace and the intensity is still as it was in the World Cup, but we have fine-tuned certain aspects and we have learned from our mistakes. We are slightly harder to read than we have been."

The usual kidology prevailed as well. England are definitely uncomfortable going into a match as overwhelming favourites. Dawson noted with a grin that Johnstone had been at work with trowel and float, piling on the flattery as thick rendering. "He has been building us up again this week and making us even stronger favourites than we were originally," he said. "But we are going into a very hostile environment and if we don't get our mental and physical approach right we will come off second best. Obviously the media and everyone is expecting us to win, and to win well, but we have to have our feet firmly on the floor. If we do not get it right we will come off second best.

"I have spoken to my clubmates at Northampton, Matty Stewart and Budge Pountney, who were in the Scotland team that suffered that shock defeat in the Six Nations opener. They said the Stadio Flaminio in Rome was a very difficult place. The Italian players are going to be very passionate, the fans are going to make a lot of noise."

Meanwhile, it appears that Graham Henry's problems are piling up. Byron Hayward, who had been named on the Wales A bench for tomorrow's match against their Scottish counterparts in Bridgend, has pulled out. He told a local paper in Gloucester that everything that has been going on with the eligibility scandal has made his blood boil. "I am very bitter about it," he is reported as saying. "I don't want any part of any Welsh side while there are players with no Welsh connection.