England still gnash their teeth at the memory of Sam Warburton, the Wales flanker, engaging the referee Steve Walsh in conversation during an injury break in last year's Six Nations title match at the Millennium Stadium – a long discussion that appeared to give Warburton a clear understanding of how the tackle area was being governed. A few weeks later, when the Cardiff Blues man was appointed captain of the British and Irish Lions, his ability to "communicate" with officials was presented as a significant factor in the decision.
Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that Chris Robshaw, who led England that day and will do so again at Twickenham on Sunday, is happy to see a Frenchman in charge of matters this time round. Romain Poite, widely regarded as the world's best whistler until Nigel Owens of Wales embarked on his recent run of supremely sympathetic and pro-active performances, will be running the show, although Walsh is listed as one of the touch-judges.
"I think the French referees are very good – they just get on with things," said Robshaw. "They don't want to have a chat: if you've done wrong, if you've infringed, they penalise you, simple as that. Otherwise, they just crack on with the game, reacting to what they see in front of them. It will be great to see."
As Warburton was a mere foot soldier last year – it was Gethin Jenkins, the loose-head prop, who led the Red Dragons to the title – one of the many things that bewildered England about Walsh's performance was why he chose to give him the time of day. This weekend, no one will spend much time talking to Poite.
As the Wallabies found to their acute discomfort in the final Lions Test in Sydney last July, the former police officer restricts himself to a small number of stock English phrases and shuns all forms of on-field debate.
Robshaw, still hurting from the Millennium Stadium experience, has not spent much time reacquainting himself with the fine detail in the build-up to this one. "I don't think there's any point in replaying the tape," he said. "All it shows is what not to do. People remember what happened – you always remember those types of occasions – and we know we switched off a little bit, started chasing the game too early and ended up playing into their hands. We have to be smarter.
"There were big momentum shifts in that game, but I think we're much better at managing those shifts now. Against Ireland in our last game, there was a huge 10-point swing to them. But Billy Twelvetrees caught the kick-off and we were back in the game very quickly. I think we understand how to deal with these situations now.
"I also think our defensive work has improved: in fact, the most impressive thing about our win against Ireland was our discipline in that area in the last 15 minutes. When you're tired, it's easy to take the soft option and jump out of the line or give away a penalty 60m out. But if you do that, you allow the opposition to kick the ball downfield and put themselves in a drop-goal scenario.
"What pleased me was that everyone stuck to the system. The tight forwards were really outstanding: their lungs were burning and their legs had gone, but they hung in there. I believe we were all thinking about what had happened against France in Paris – how we had come unstuck right at the end – and that inspired us to close it out."
If England close out a second tight one in succession, they will have a Triple Crown to their name for the first time in more than a decade. Hence Robshaw's assertion that "there is too much at stake in this season's game to worry about what happened last season." If he is still wound up about the events of 12 months ago, he is not letting on in public.
"Of course it was disappointing," he acknowledged. "But we have to look at what is up for grabs now. A Triple Crown on our own soil? That would be massive. We haven't had a chance to register that kind of win at Twickenham. And of course, we're playing Wales next year in the World Cup, and if they've won every game against us going into the tournament, it's not going to fill us with confidence, is it? We need to get something on them by getting a result when it matters."Reuse content