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.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent