Contrary to popular belief, things could be worse for the England head coach, Andy Robinson, who saw his team disappear down the tubes in record fashion against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Sunday. According to one major bookmaker, the chances of David Beckham playing his football in Los Angeles next season are almost three times better than those of Robinson receiving the P45 treatment ahead of the 2007 World Cup, which begins in France in 10 months' time. And as we all know to our cost, you rarely see a bookie riding a bike.
However, Robinson is now officially an unlucky coach. Even the governing body of the union game, the International Rugby Board, says so. Yesterday, the IRB's referee manager, the New Zealander Paddy O'Brien, openly conceded that the two French officials at the centre of the most controversial moment in last weekend's fixture, Joel Jutge and Christophe Berdos, had been wrong to deny the England centre Jamie Noon an opening try that just might have cramped the All Blacks' style.
"I'm not going to stand here and defend the indefensible," O'Brien said. "When Joel referred the incident to the television match official [Berdos], the wrong questions were asked. I have no doubt the try was legitimate. Had I been refereeing the game without the option of going 'upstairs', my instinct would unquestionably have been to award the score."
This will be of little consolation to the beleaguered Robinson, apart from to confirm him in his suspicion that the sporting gods are having their wicked way with him. In 2005, he landed himself in a sea of boiling water with the IRB by criticising the South African referee Jonathan Kaplan, whose performance in the Six Nations game between Ireland and England in Dublin did not amuse the red rose coach one little bit. Earlier this year, when England finished second to the Irish once again, Robinson was equally exasperated by the decision of the Welsh referee Nigel Whitehouse to award Shane Horgan a profoundly dubious five-pointer at an important moment.
Interestingly, the IRB is planning to extend the influence of the television match official by allowing the match referee to refer incidents in the build-up to a try. At the moment, he can only ask a question - sometimes the right one, sometimes the wrong one - in respect of the act of scoring. If the evidence of Sunday's pantomime is anything to go by, the television match official should be asking the man on the field for advice. Or better still, he might switch off his television set and push off home.
Robinson has called the Saracens centre Ben Johnston into his squad for this weekend's highly dangerous meeting with Argentina, which England will do well to win. Johnston captained the second string in last summer's Churchill Cup and has been in excellent form this season. Indeed, he is making it extremely difficult for a certain Andy Farrell, lured into the union game from rugby league at vast expense, to gather the meaningful Premiership experience that might prepare him for the international career Robinson envisaged when he set the cross-code transfer talks in motion.
Four players denied a shot at New Zealand by injury - the Wasps pair of Josh Lewsey and Tom Rees, the Sale wing Mark Cueto and the Perpignan prop Perry Freshwater - are expected to resume training with the Test party at Bisham Abbey today.
Wales, in rather more buoyant mood following their high-quality draw with Australia at the Millennium Stadium, were also chasing spare centres ahead of this weekend's game with the Pacific Islands. Sonny Parker, the 29-year-old Ospreys midfielder, was drafted out of retirement after Hal Luscombe, of Harlequins, broke down with hamstring trouble. With the captain, Stephen Jones of Llanelli Scarlets, certain to miss the fixture - the knee injury he picked up against the Wallabies will incapacitate him for at least a fortnight - the Red Dragon coaches have a number of decisions to make.
"I said when I retired that my head wasn't in the right place for international rugby - that I didn't feel able to give of my best," Parker commented yesterday. "But I have to admit I've missed it."Reuse content