If England's victory over Ireland in Dublin solved a couple of difficult World Cup conundrums – it is now very hard to see Martin Johnson, the manager, going into the big game with Argentina a week on Saturday without the Sale prop Andrew Sheridan or the Gloucester centre Mike Tindall – it also raised a question or two. Not least over the full-back position, where Ben Foden's status as a nailed-on starter is not quite as secure as he imagined at the beginning of the month.
Delon Armitage, trouble on legs at club level but generally well-behaved on Test duty, enjoyed an excellent warm-up series, catching the eye with his counter-attacking in the first of the two games against Wales and then scoring a try from the left wing at Lansdowne Road. By those standards, Foden endured a rough August.
"I thought I'd messed up my chances of playing at the World Cup," admitted Armitage, whose verbal and physical excesses while playing for London Irish cost him his place in the Six Nations squad and also denied him a reviving run-out against the Barbarians in May. "I couldn't make Martin's decision for him: all I could do was put some pressure on him by performing well when given the opportunity.
"There's going to be some needle every time you play, but all this stuff about me being a problem for England is rubbish. Go back and look: I've never had a problem. I want to play for my country, I don't want to let the side down and I'm aware that I need to react in the right way and show some self-control. I have to grow up and get on with it. The important thing is that I have my hunger back. I have a chance to go to the big show and play a part. And that's all I want to do – play, whether it's at full-back, wing or centre."
At least Armitage was on the plane when it left for Auckland on Monday afternoon. Ireland flew out yesterday without their long-serving centre Gordon D'Arcy, who picked up a calf strain during a recovery session and was told to delay his departure for 48 hours. There were also continuing concerns over the fitness of the captain, Brian O'Driscoll, who missed the England match with a neck injury.
"At a push, I could probably have played, but I thought it was smart to stay out of it," said the stellar midfielder, who was permitted to fly by the team medics. "I feel as though I should be grand in a couple of weeks, and in good shape to kick things off in the first game against the United States."
One player who will not be around for his country's first-up fixture is the New Zealand No 8 Kieran Read, who damaged ankle ligaments during the Tri-Nations loss to Australia in Brisbane at the weekend. A key figure in the All Blacks' back row, he is unlikely to feature in any of the pool matches.Reuse content