Deliverance day for Joe and Harry, the old and the new

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The Independent Online

If the Irish coaches need extra intelligence before putting the finishing touches to their campaign, they can have a discreet word with the players working behind enemy lines, Geordan Murphy of Leicester and Jonny O'Connor of Wasps.

If the Irish coaches need extra intelligence before putting the finishing touches to their campaign, they can have a discreet word with the players working behind enemy lines, Geordan Murphy of Leicester and Jonny O'Connor of Wasps.

"Geordan is a very talented player and he's going to cause us a few problems," Harry Ellis, one of the Leicester contingent in the England side, said. "It'll be nice to play against him rather than with him. He helps to make Ireland creative, but it's nothing we can't handle."

Whereas Ellis has not had an informal discussion with Murphy over a pint of Guinness, Joe Worsley, a back-row team-mate of O'Connor's at Wasps, has shared a hot chocolate with the openside flanker. "We talk to each other a lot," Worsley said, "and we've agreed that we'll definitely exchange a few words on the pitch."

One of England's mantras has been the need for quicker and cleaner possession, and one of O'Connor's jobs is to ensure they don't get it. "With his speed around the place, Jonny can kill a match," Worsley said. "Poor decision-making has been one of the major things wrong with England, and that's down to inexperience. People have to learn what to do at inter- national level, they have to adapt to a new gameplan. At club level, where you do things week in, week out, it's much easier."

But only in one regard, according to Worsley, who added to the outburst of Olly Barkley about the treadmill effect. "We have to play a ridiculous number of games," Worsley said. "The only way to deal with it is when the whistle sounds, you adopt the mentality of going over the top."

Worsley has 41 caps and, in the absence of Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio, who got out while the going was at its best, is regarded as one of the old guard - once more unto the breach. Barkley, by comparison, is a raw recruit who made an ill-timed contribution from the ranks. "It's not a coincidence that everyone is getting injured at the same time, because we are at that stage of the season when the body says, 'I've had enough, I can't do this any more'," Barkley said. "It affects the quality of the England side. We shouldn't play club rugby during the Six Nations."

Not everybody feels this way. Ellis was a replacement for the Leicester-Newcastle Premiership match last weekend, but couldn't wait to participate in the 83-10 massacre. "Do you want to get on?" John Wells, the Tigers coach, asked him. "Yes please," replied Ellis, who appeared late in the second half. "Sitting on the bench does my head in."

Ellis has played against his opposite number today, Peter Stringer, before, notably in a Heineken Cup final during which he came off the bench, but this will be his debut at Lansdowne Road. As far as Ellis is concerned, for Lansdowne Road read Welford Road. "Playing for Leicester is a plus point," the scrum-half, who will be playing behind some familiar members of the Tigers pack, said. "We play a lot of intense matches in front of big, noisy crowds. The European Cup games are right up there for intensity. Also, you're nothing special at Leicester. The club makes sure of keeping your feet on the ground, and that makes you work harder. To my mind, nothing's changed. Everybody is still as determined and driven, and we have the chance to redeem ourselves. There's a good sense of togetherness, of the team bonding. We have a lot of confidence in each other."

Ellis, according to England's head coach, Andy Robinson, is one of the team's leaders, so if Charlie Hodgson needs a little reassurance, will the No 9 provide it? "I'm less experienced than Charlie," Ellis said. "In any case, no one needs to tell him what to do. He's a professional. You move on."

Ellis was replaced by Matt Dawson well into the second half against France. "I'm grateful for starting again," Ellis said. "It will be good for Matt to come on. If he does, I'm sure he'll make an impact."

This doesn't sound like one of the most competitive players in England. "I'm determined to keep Matt on the bench and be the number one scrum-half for the next 10 years," is what the Tiger would say, but these are not normal times in Red Rose country. "We didn't play too badly against France," Ellis said. "We scored a couple of good tries and defended well, but gave away a few silly penalties. We can build on it." He was reminded that the last time England lost three in a row was 18 years ago. "Was it?" Ellis replied.

Worsley's view of the 18-17 defeat by France was somewhat different. "My feeling is one of anger at chucking it all away. It's patently obvious why we lost, but it's how we lost that hurts. France did nothing. They never threatened us. We had the ball and we did silly things and made poor decisions. Going through the video makes me even more angry. What happened isn't rocket science." Indeed not, although rocket scientists are now two a penny.

Worsley went on: "I never thought for one moment we would lose to France, and that's the first time at international level I have experienced something like that. But for a couple of kicks, we could be going for a Grand Slam. Instead we're out of the Championship race, and a truly good team would not have got themselves into that position."