Cueto gives credit to the red-rose 'brat pack' for re-energising England

The way the England manager Martin Johnson tells it, mention of the words "grand" and "slam" in the same sentence by any of those involved with the red-rose squad is a sackable offence, so when Mark Cueto broke ranks yesterday – "We're not a bunch of muppets: we know a Grand Slam is there to be won," the long-serving wing remarked – he appeared to be moving into P45 territory at breakneck speed. Happily for him, there is safety in numbers. Graham Rowntree, an increasingly influential member of Johnson's back-room staff, could also be heard talking about the prize at stake in Dublin this coming weekend.

When England last went through the Six Nations card eight years ago, completing the job at the old Lansdowne Road stadium just as they hope to wrap things up at the new one on Saturday night, Rowntree was in the thick of the front-row action. He is therefore perfectly placed to compare and contrast, and when challenged to do so, his comments were as surprising as they were fascinating.

"Is this side as settled as that one was? Christ no," said the man responsible for restoring England's reputation as a strong, disciplined scrummaging unit. "That team took a long time to build and there were a fair few heartaches along the way. Are the players as close as a group as we were back then? Yes. Are they as ambitious? I'd say they're more ambitious. The things they demand of each other and demand of us coaches... I've not seen it before."

It was some claim, given that Clive Woodward wanted nothing less than the earth for the team he was managing in '03 and went as close as possible to delivering it by guiding them to the world title a few months after victory in the Irish capital: a 42-6 win that in many eyes marked the high point of English rugby in the modern era. (As an aside, Rowntree talked briefly about the moment when Johnson, then the captain, led his players onto the field, stood in the wrong place ahead of the formalities, flatly refused to budge an inch and, as a consequence, forced Mary McAleese, the president of the republic, to walk halfway round Dublin in her high heels before accepting her handshake. "I was stood next to Johnno at the time," Rowntree said. "Brilliant.")

It has become apparent over the course of this tournament that what might be called the red-rose brat pack – relative newcomers such as Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole and Tom Wood – are the ones responsible for energising a team that seemed so short of energy this time last year. Cueto put it well. "They're high on life," he said. Having spent his career slaving away on the loose-head side of umpteen thousand scrums, Rowntree had no hesitation in including the front-row revelation Alex Corbisiero in this group.

"This game in Dublin will be a good test for him," he said of Corbisiero, whose exploits against Italy, France and Scotland have propelled him headlong into the mix for the World Cup in New Zealand later this year. "The proof of the pudding is to be found in performance on the field and we'll see how he goes against a passionate Irish pack, but the evidence suggests he'll be up to the examination. He's a very coachable kid: he doesn't stop working, he asks the right questions, he takes information on board."

Corbisiero, 22 going on 30 and patently a duck-to-water sort, is well used to information overloads, having studied at the London School of Economics. "England have their own way of playing, their own approaches to scrums and line-outs, so there has been lots to take in," he said. "It's been a matter of keeping my head down, doing my homework and really going over the ground. It helps that people are so positive, so open. I think it also helped battling through a tough time at London Irish. To get some performances out when we were really struggling for results gave me the confidence to push forward."

During the Calcutta Cup banquet on Sunday night, Corbisiero fell into conversation with Jason Leonard, the most-capped England player of them all and a front-row figure of legendary proportions, in more ways than one. Being an occasional tippler at best – "I haven't had a drink since the summer" – the younger man was just a little startled when Leonard, a formidable consumer of fine ale, insisted he must be "like a sponge". In fact, the celebrated Harlequin of old was stressing the importance of seeking out advice and soaking it up.

Leonard famously won a Grand Slam at his first attempt. If he is willing to offer a few tips on that particular subject, Corbisiero will be all ears.

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game