Tindall puts on a sober show for the family

 

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Lewis Moody suffered what he politely described as a "smack in the crown jewels" when Mike Tindall clattered into him from a Romanian restart. This was just a little ironic, given that Tindall had been at serious risk of having the real Crown Jewels, as opposed to Moody's delicate parts, thrown at his head. With his royal wife in town and the internet-driven coverage of his late-night behaviour continuing unabated, the last thing he needed was to put his own captain out of the tournament.

Happily, Moody responded well to the magic spongeand would probably have completed the match had Martin Johnson, the England manager, not withdrawn him just past the hour. Unhappily, Tindall caused less damage to the Eastern Europeans than he did to the Leicester flanker. After all that had happened in Queenstown, he needed a nice quiet evening in Dunedin. Not this quiet, though.

The Gloucester midfielder has played most of his Test rugby as a No 13. Now he is playing at No 12, we know why. He is not obviously equipped with any of the virtues listed by Brian Smith, the England attack coach, during a discussion about the ideal inside-centre, although on a good day Tindall can boot the ball a mile. Certainly, he does not possess anything recognisable as raw pace. On the evidence of the last 48 hours, he is far faster when it comes to leaving beachside bistros than he is in beating opponents. This may have something to do with the fact that he drives to his lunch dates in a Range Rover.

He tried desperately hard to put things to rights yesterday; indeed, he tried far harder than was necessary against a Romanian second-string wholly unsuited to the demands of a contest with one of the top half-dozen sides in the international game. His offloads were scatter-gun and there was nothing much doing in open field. It might be argued that his opposite number, Iulian Dumitras, made more use of his starvation rations than Tindall did of a glut of high-quality possession.

If England's campaign founders early, it will surely because their midfield is below par. Set against the most dangerous centres in the tournament – Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith of New Zealand, say, or Maxime Mermoz and Aurélien Rougerie of France – Tindall and Manu Tuilagi do not look up to much. Tuilagi made a horrible mess of the Romanians but he faced tougher propositions in the age-group rugby he played at Leicester before breaking into the first team. Against serious opponents, it is hard to see how England will prosper.

Fortunately, the two cutting-edge attackers, Ben Youngs at scrum-half and Chris Ashton on the right wing, raised their games. Youngs benefited from a much-improved rucking display by his forwards – the space they afforded him was not wasted – and Ashton was back to his predatory best, appearing anywhere and everywhere in the search for mismatches against the flagging Romanian forwards.

If Johnson sticks with Tindall in the No 12 shirt – and there is little or no evidence to suggest otherwise – England will concede the attacking initiative in this crucial area and trust to luck that Youngs and Ashton, in particular, will take up the slack. At least Tindall can tackle, as befits a man who has spent the last fortnight completely on the defensive.

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