Delon Armitage did not get much wrong yesterday; his handling, running and distribution were assured and only perhaps one missed tackle let down the London Irish full-back, one of five England debutants. That and a grievous lapse in eyesight. Searching for his family in the East Stand, the Trinidadian with a dash of Welsh heritage looked in the wrong place and missed a mass of waving hands.
There was stepdad John Armitage, mum Verna, rugby-playing brothers Guy, Bevon, Steffon and Joel, and little sister Juanita. Plus Delon's girlfriend Gemma and their son Cameron and Gemma's mum; John's mum, aunt and brother and sister-in-law and their daughter, not to mention cousin-in-law Chris, an ex-Cardiff prop. Here's hoping they were on the two-for-one ticket deal.
"When Delon did the first couple of things right, I knew we were in for a good afternoon," said Armitage senior. A modest verdict compared with the praise dished out by Martin Johnson, the England manager, which topped it all off.
Johnson picked four debutants from the start: local lads from London Irish, London Wasps and Harlequins, and then again a cosmopolitan bunch. Armitage and Ugo Monye were here by default, it may be said, after injuries to James Simpson-Daniel, Mathew Tait and David Strettle, but they did not just count their lucky stars. Armitage's run and lob inside after a flat pass by Riki Flutey made the first try for Paul Sackey, the old hand in the back three (or the "black three" as Monye, born in Islington of Nigerian parents, had called it).
England had been this way before, in autumn 1997 when Clive Woodward capped five men against Australia. They were a mixture of sinkers and swimmers; a one-cap wonder, Andy Long, at hooker, whereas Matt Perry and Will Greenwood enjoyed many seasons in the sun. Time will judge this lot: the other new faces were Flutey at inside centre and Nick Kennedy in the second row plus hooker Dylan Hartley on the bench. Kennedy's success or otherwise as a king of the line-out may be most crucial to England in the long run, and he does appear somewhat similar to his captain, Steve Borthwick.
The scarcely less callow Danny Care, Danny Cipriani and Tom Croft were in an arrestingly inexperienced XV and when Cipriani was charged down for a try a chill wind infiltrated HQ. With Wallabies, Springboks and All Blacks heading this way, a still-birth for this nascent side was unpalatable.
Monye's break to make Cipriani's 37th-minute try lightened the mood. Kennedy's neat give and take with Care brought the lock a try direct from a line-out early in the second half. When Flutey chased a hack into the Pacific Islanders' half, the New Zealander qualified on residency was cheered like any son of the stockbroker belt.
Armitage, most promisingly, looked to have that precious gift: presence of mind in the face of Pacific war-mongering. "I had a text from Jason Robinson wishing me luck," he said, referring to his full-back predecessor of a mere 51 England caps, two Lions tours and a World Cup win. "That was a big lift. He said to enjoy it, you've worked hard for it and this is where you should be."
Robinson's next message may be that the opposition in coming weeks will be much tougher. Johnson indicated he would give this back three another run against Australia on Saturday. The Islanders' hefty forwards coach, Peter Fatialofa, warned that his men had come out "even stevens" in the scrum.
Only Phil Vickery, the bench prop, of those listening to Johnson's team-talk before kick-off had been alongside the then captain in Sydney in 2003.
Test teams are moulded as a collective but there is room for dominant individuals. Maybe when they made Johnson they threw away the mould. Whether it is Armitage, Kennedy or someone yet to emerge, England must make a team in their own image.Reuse content