A hard-hearted sort would bracket the full-back Ben Foden with the outside-half Charlie Hodgson as England's leading scorer of the Six Nations to date, on account of the two "own tries" he donated to the Italians in Rome a dozen days ago. If the first, a chaotic pinball job in which the ball ricocheted off both Foden and Ben Youngs before finding its way to a grateful Giovanbattista Venditti, was merely annoying, the second – a classic interception pass to Tommaso Benvenuti – bordered on the criminal. By his own admission, Foden has ground to make up against Wales this weekend.
"I didn't have my best game against Italy," the Northampton player acknowledged as he cast an eye over prospects for England's return to Twickenham after six months of ever-changing fortunes on the road. "It's the kind of thing that happens sometimes and it will be a test of character to bounce back. It took me quite a while to get over what happened in Rome, but I have to take responsibility and learn from the experience. In particular, I have to make sure I don't force things in 50-50 situations. Better to keep hold of the ball and go through the next phase."
This may be precisely what Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker coach, wants to hear. There again, it may not. As one of the principal strike runners in the England team, it is the full-back's job to bust open defences from deep when, as happens all too often in red-rose affairs, they are not being broken in midfield. If Foden abandons his familiar high-risk, high-reward approach for something more conservative, there is no guarantee of a compensatory contribution elsewhere.
"Yes, I think it is about tightening my game," Foden continued. "I'll probably have to rein it in a little bit, because the pass that went to Benvenuti wasn't on. I've thrown those passes before and got away with it, but this is international rugby and if you make those mistakes, the opposition will punish you. I still want to go out there and play: what happened last time doesn't mean I'll never chance my arm and take people on. But it's down to me to make the right decisions at the right times."
Lancaster's move to send the senior squad's second-string full-back, Mike Brown, back to Harlequins for this weekend's Premiership business with Gloucester amounted to a vote of confidence in Foden. Not that he needed it. Brown has been in decent enough form this season, but as the Northampton man demonstrated when the two clubs met at Franklin's Gardens in early January, there is no doubting the identity of the boss when it comes to the No 15 duties.
And anyway, Foden is just the kind of Englishman to put the Welsh on edge as they motor along the M4 towards London. A year ago, ahead of a Six Nations game on the other side of the Second Severn Crossing, he committed himself to print with the following words: "In a way, we have to think: 'We are England, we are the big country, we are going to put these guys in their place'." Unsurprisingly, these thoughts worked their way under the Red Dragon skin, and that dragon is still breathing its noxious fumes now.
"I'm not their favourite person," Foden admitted. "Have you seen my Twitter page? It's good that people get so patriotic about these things and with all the social media nowadays, the players are that much more accessible. I've had some messages from the Welsh and they're... blunt. But it's part and parcel of the game and I love it: the build-up 12 months ago was brilliant and the hype surrounding the match made it more dramatic. I'm sure there'll be more hostility this time, seeing as it's such a crunch game."
With the Leicester lock Geoff Parling widely expected to make his first international start after the dropping of Tom Palmer, and two other Test rookies – the Llanelli-based West Countryman Ben Morgan and the Northampton mover and shaker Lee Dickson – challenging hard for places at No 8 and scrum-half respectively, today's England team announcement will be eagerly awaited by the Welsh, who are 80 minutes away from a third Triple Crown in eight years. The visitors travel as favourites, but they will be wary of their hosts' replacement options, especially if the likes of Youngs, Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes are held back on the bench.
Meanwhile, the England newcomers Owen Farrell and Mouritz Botha are among 18 players agreeing contract extensions with Saracens, the reigning national champions. Among others staying with the Watford-based club is the influential Ernst Joubert, the South African No 8 who qualifies for England on residency grounds later this year. Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, yesterday described Joubert as "one of the pillars of our revival".
- More about:
- P Funk