When it comes to prime examples of sporting irony, the sight of the Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones trudging towards the Twickenham sin bin with the word "Brains" – a sponsor's logo – scrawled across his shirt will surely take some beating. As Warren Gatland, his coach, more or less said in the aftermath of a defeat that had more than a little to do with Jones's football-style trip on the England hooker Dylan Hartley, it may have been the most brainless act yet witnessed in the decade-long history of the Six Nations Championship.
Yet the Lions forward may well be granted a shot at redemption against Scotland at the Millennium Stadium this weekend. On Saturday night, Gatland was in no mood to discuss the Ospreys forward's chances of staying in the starting line-up for the second match of the tournament, but yesterday, one of his lieutenants indicated that Jones's place was safe.
"I don't think he'll be left out," said Neil Jenkins, the kicking coach [as opposed to the tripping coach]. "We've all made mistakes. Alun made one at the weekend and he's hurting as much as anyone. We've had players sent to the bin in the past and come through unscathed. On Saturday, we conceded some points and didn't come through. It was one of those things. We all know Alun is a fantastic player, so we'll learn from it and move on."
Wales should have Gethin Jenkins, among the most potent props in Test rugby, available to them following a swift recovery from the calf injury that prevented him participating at Twickenham. "We're progressing his training with a view to him taking a full part in Thursday's session," said the physiotherapist Mark Davies. However, there were darker tidings in respect of another Test Lion from last summer's bitterly fought series in South Africa, the hooker Matthew Rees.
One of the most improved performers in the European game, Rees broke down with groin trouble late last year, but decided against early surgery that would have ruled him out of the Six Nations. As it turns out he is likely to miss it anyway, having suffered a relapse last week. His continuing absence leaves Gatland with an itchy problem. Gareth Williams's throwing against England left a lot to be desired and there are many who wonder whether the other hooker in the squad, Huw Bennett, is fully up to mark. If reinforcements are needed ahead of the Scotland game, the gifted Richard Hibbard of Ospreys would be the obvious choice.
England, rather pleased with themselves after ending a run of three championship defeats at the hands of the Welsh, reconvened at their base in Surrey last night ahead of this weekend's trip to Rome. Riki Flutey, very much the first choice at inside centre, was expected to prove his fitness after missing the Twickenham contest with a dead leg and has every chance of facing the Italians, while the second-string tight-head prop Dan Cole has an outside chance of promotion. Martin Johnson will name his side tomorrow.
The French, far more impressive than their nine-point victory margin over the Scots suggested, have already declared their hand for the highly significant meeting with Ireland, the reigning champions, in Paris on Saturday. As expected, it is precisely the same hand as the one dealt at Murrayfield, although there is some doubt over the powerful wing Aurelien Rougerie, who lasted just three minutes before finishing second best in his own tackle on the flanker Kelly Brown.
Yesterday, Les Bleus seemed more concerned about the standard of refereeing than about Rougerie's chances of facing Brian O'Driscoll and company. Marc Lièvremont, the coach, took aim at the Welsh official Nigel Owens for his "leniency with the Scots", comparing it to "his extreme severity with my team". He added: "I'm a bit sad because it's recurring. We can't forget that last year in Dublin he awarded 13 penalties against us and two against Ireland. We'll polish up our report and send it to Paddy O'Brien [the New Zealander who heads up International Rugby Board's refereeing department]. It's a factor of the game we can't control but we'll still try to solve the problem."
Whatever help the Scots received from Owens, they remain in a state of flux. Andy Robinson, the former England coach currently in his first international season north of the border, has recalled all the squad members who missed out on selection against the French, including, inevitably, the tight-head prop Euan Murray, whose Christian principals prevented him turning out on the Sabbath.
In addition, Robinson called up the Ospreys wing Nikki Walker, the Edinburgh centre Ben Cairns and the Northampton flanker Scott Gray. His biggest decision will be at outside-half, where Ruaridh Jackson, the much talked-about youngster from Glasgow, awaits an opportunity.Reuse content