Future of the Saxons up in the air despite Churchill Cup victory
England Saxons 37 Canada XV 6
Monday 20 June 2011
As England came up with the Churchill Cup concept – not even the arch-Tories on the RFU Council felt they could get away with a "Thatcher Trophy" and there was little support for a "Blair Bowl" – it seems only right and proper that the silverware should be theirs in perpetuity. The tournament breathed its last before a decent-sized audience at Worcester, the London Irish flanker James Gibson marking its descent into the sporting grave by claiming a fifth try for the second-string Saxons as the clock ticked into stoppage time. Is anyone in mourning? It's an interesting question.
Canada, who played far better than the scoreline indicated, despite being starved of ball for long periods and boasting a seriously classy player in the multi-skilled breakaway Chauncey O'Toole, did well enough out of the competition over its nine-year span, but now both they and the United States have been bumped up the International Rugby Board's "to do" list and will have a more meaningful presence on the Test fixture list from next year, they are not beside themselves with grief. If anyone is likely to be adversely affected, it is England.
All those players and nowhere to play them... what do the Saxons do now? Their head coach, Stuart Lancaster, could not provide an answer. "We have two games during next year's Six Nations, against the Ireland and Scotland second teams, but as far as I'm aware, we're not close to putting together a full competition including the French, the Italians and the Welsh," he said. "I don't know what the future holds for the Saxons."
After the 80-point romp against the Americans and the one-way scrummaging show against the Tongans, the home side badly needed a meaningful contest. Canada gave them that and more, thanks largely to O'Toole, who is an old-fashioned "touch" player trading more on wit and imagination than brute physicality.
The Saxons played directly into his hands by moving the ball too wide too early and were poor value for their 15-6 interval lead. It was Jordan Crane, their captain, who understood the problem and set about addressing it. Neither he nor the hooker David Paice could have done much more in challenging for a place in England's 45-man World Cup training squad, to be confirmed today, yet Crane finds himself in an awkward place, given Johnson's apparent enthusiasm for another Leicester forward, the exiled New Zealander Thomas Waldrom.
Quite why Waldrom was not asked to state his case with the Saxons is unclear, and if, as expected, he is included in the 45, there will be a good deal of seething going on amongst the No 8 fraternity.
Scorers: England Saxons: Tries: M Benjamin 2, J Gaskell, C Sharples, J Gibson. Conversions: R Clegg 3. Penalties: Clegg 2. Canada XV: Penalty: J Pritchard. Drop goal: A Monro.
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