Baptism of fire for Moody as captain

Borthwick's injury presents big test for flanker dropped for England's last game

Recent Leicester captains do not have a great record of leading England to victory in Paris: neither the current manager, Martin Johnson, nor Martin Corry, long-serving skippers both, ever managed it. Might Lewis Moody break the sequence? The open-side flanker, whose nickname "Crazy Horse" does not quite conjure the image of the cool-headed tactician with a splinter of ice buried deep in his cerebral cortex, has performed the role at club level on the grand total of two occasions. Whatever he brings to the job at Stade de France tonight, it will certainly be new.

Moody beat the Harlequins No 8 Nick Easter and the recalled Gloucester centre Mike Tindall to the job after Steve Borthwick, very much Johnson's captain of choice, gave best to a rapidly worsening knee injury that may need a good deal of treatment. "There are three or four people we could have chosen, but Lewis is an inspirational figure," the manager explained. "We think it's a good call."

As Moody was dropped from the starting line-up only last week – Joe Worsley was preferred for the Calcutta Cup match in Edinburgh – it is, to say the very least, a tale of twists and turns. Can he really be the best man for the leadership role under such circumstances? Moody, a man who knows his own mind sufficiently well to have flown in the face of Leicester orthodoxy by agreeing terms with Bath for next season, was keen to keep things in perspective yesterday. "It's a bit bizarre," he admitted, "but while it's a huge honour, nothing will change in terms of me playing my game. There's never just the one voice in the build-up to kick-off anyway."

Talk about a baptism of fire. If England fail to front up this evening, they will find themselves targets in the rugby equivalent of a duck shoot – or rather, a sitting duck shoot. The French are chasing another of their regular Grand Slams, and if anyone was wondering whether they might be growing a little weary of the Six Nations clean-sweep experience, the most revered member of the Tricolore hierarchy disabused them of the notion.

"I have been associated with five Slams," said Jo Maso, the manager. "But there are young players in our team – Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc, Marc Andreu and Alexis Palisson – who have never won one. I've told them they are about to go through one of the best times in their lives because if they win, they will leave their mark on French rugby history. I have told them to enjoy every minute and make sure they have no regrets."

It remains to be seen whether Johnson regrets his decision to run yet another Leicester captain, Louis Deacon, in the second row, rather than promote the Paris-based Tom Palmer. Deacon has been playing the best rugby of his international career, but he is very much a front-jumping lock of the "human tractor" variety and cannot be expected to impersonate Borthwick at line-out time. Palmer, a specialist middle jumper who has been known to deliver on the big occasion, would have been the more potent threat to Les Bleus' operation.

There again, a fluffed line-out here and there may not make much difference. It is difficult to think of many England players who, on current form, might justify a place in this French side – none at all would be the best estimate – and if the home forwards work their way on to the front foot in the opening quarter, the visitors will be in for a very long night indeed. In Parra, the brilliant little scrum-half from Metz, the favourites have one of the players of the tournament; in the full-back Clément Poitrenaud, the hooker William Servat, the flanker Thierry Dusautoir and the No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, they have four more.

England will fight tooth and nail, as they always do. They will certainly defend more aggressively and effectively than the Italians did a week ago. But Ireland, no mean team, worked their collective socks off in Paris in the second round of matches and still went down 33-10. Victory is not out of the question for Johnson's team, but the tide is flowing strongly against them.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own