Most of us pop over to France for a holiday and come back with a crate of red wine in the boot, some extra inches around the waist and a little more serviceable Franglais in the vocabulary. Andy Goode crossed the Channel last summer to join Brive and, in any-one's best estimation, make a few bob and broaden his horizons. Unexpectedly recalled by England, he reappeared yesterday with a quickfire try and a barrel load of points, even if the man-of-the-match champagne went to his old Leicesterconfrère Harry Ellis.
It might have been regarded as going back to the future – Ellis and Goode started in this very fixture in 2005, when the home team won 39-7 – in the simple sense that the fly-half's inclusion coincided with the exclusion of the young hope Danny Cipriani. When Goode's Andy Murray-like fist-pumpingcelebration marked his grubber-kick try just 95 seconds intohis first Test in 27 months, it looked as if Martin Johnson, the England manager and Leicester old boy, might have beenon to something. Then again, maybe not.
Goode may now know his cassoulet from his fish and chips after his stint in the Massif Central, but his still-familiar qualities of straightforward attacking of the gain line were not lifted out of the ordinary by a gameplan which was at best dull and at worst unidentifiable. Too much kicking when England held a huge lead was reallynot good enough for a capacitycrowd, or even a small one.
Had Toby Flood been fit instead of waylaid by a calf injury maybe Goode would not have had his comeback. Either way, was it fear which kept the likes of Shane Geraghty and Mathew Tait on the bench until the final quarter? Pragmatism, perhaps, if all that mattered was getting a win.
Surely, though, Johnson and any other decent judge could see that Italy – for all that their pack gets talked up as eight Russell Crowes in full armour – were weakened by the daft experiment with Mauro Bergamasco at scrum-half and therefore there for the taking.
Even if one accepts the rather narrow argument – and England certainly played this one narrow – that securing a winning start justified safety-first tactics, where does that leave them now for the next task up, against Wales on Saturday?
Cipriani's planned run-out for the second-team Saxons two days ago was frosted off; the Wasp should perhaps have been here yesterday, playing himself back into Test form against those who shared his (little bit) of Italian ancestry. Just as, arguably, he was wrongly picked and persevered with last autumn against the southern- hemisphere heavyweights when he appeared lost for both form and complete fitness.
Back-to-front thinking is not what England expected of Johnson. At least, in the litany of injuries and other mishaps which have afflicted the national team since the 2003 World Cup, they struck lucky for once. Danny Care wrenched an ankle in a midweek slip on a patch of ice and shoehorned Ellis back into the starting XV. This Tiger's prowling around the fringes suited a team with so many questions still to answer in their back-row ploys and overall approach.
A try in each half brought a beam to Ellis's chops and even a half-grin to Johnson's. Still, when Geraghty, Tait and Ben Foden came on late on there was a glimpse of a snazzier countenance. What face England dare to show in Cardiff is yet to be known, but with away wins over France in the past couple of years earned through the order of the boot we may guess that Ellis and Goode will be there again.
"We're very relieved, it was a scrappy game," said Ellis, who had been off suspended for six weeks before he had 80 minutes for the Saxons against Portugal last weekend. "It's always the same, the first game back, a bit stuttery at times.
"We need to improve in every single area really, hopefully have a good week and look forward to Wales."Reuse content