Lipman prepared to grab second England chance

The Australian-raised flanker cannot wait to tackle Italy and France after being recalled to the team, writes Tim Glover
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The Independent Online

You can take the player out of Australia but you can't take the Oz out of Michael Lipman. "I can't wait to take on the Frenchies," the Bath flanker said. It wasn't only politically incorrect but premature. It wasn't, however, a statement born of arrogance.

In the West Country they do not call him "Lipman the Lip". He just got a bit carried away. After 18 long months he has been recalled to the red rose cause for his Six Nations debut and to say he was as high as a kookaburra on coke is an understatement. "It just feels great," he said, after making the short journey from his home in Bath to England's headquarters at the Bath Spa Hotel. Very resplendent. I didn't think this was possible but the Bath Spa has outpriced the Pennyhill Park, England's former HQ near Bagshot, for a glass of red wine: £12 as opposed to £10. The RFU should start looking at a Travelodge.

Before England play France in Paris in a few weeks' time, they have to tackle Italy in Rome on Sunday and Lipman, after rave reviews with the Bath back row this season, has been recalled as a specialist No 7. It is partly on form, more so on the fact that England's back row was decimated during the extraordinary capitulation against Wales at Twickenham last Sunday. The entire squad is still in a state of shock, including Lipman who was called up as a back-row reinforcement towards the end of last week and therefore was among the 82,500 who watched, in a trance-like state, England's imitation of a lemming.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said. "There were so many mistakes by individuals. The way Wales scored their tries was down to our mistakes. There was a frustration that we didn't do things right. We played well for 60 minutes so the result was massively disappointing. Afterwards there was an anger and that is not a term that we use lightly. We didn't play to our potential."

Lipman won a handful of caps in 2006; he played against the All Blacks and twice against Australia, his last appearance coming in Melbourne. Lewis Moody failed a late fitness test and Lipman, who was not in the original 22, was promoted the day before the game.

"I was in a losing side but I thought I played OK," he said. If he thought he was OK, then he was almost certainly better than that. Then he got a shoulder injury and in this game out of sight is out of mind. "Once you're out of the frame you need to prove your form and fitness and string some performances together," Lipman admitted.

"I always thought I would pull on the England jersey again. I've been playing well for Bath because the team has been playing well. We've also got strong half-backs and that makes my job a lot easier. Brian [Ashton] wants England to play with pace, with fast ball and that's something he used to do with Bath."

Last Saturday England lost Moody and then his replacement Tom Rees and were forced to play the lock Ben Kay out of position. Ashton referred to Lipman as an "out-and-out openside flanker." In other words an old-fashioned No 7.

"I'm not old-fashioned," he protested. "I hope that what I bring to the pack is power and pace and that I do a lot of work on the floor and at the breakdown. I see myself as a link player, a ball player and the role is just as important as a specialist hooker. Since Neil Back retired the position has not been dominated by one player. With another chance I now want to give the coaches a bit of a headache."

Lipman was born in London and his family emigrated to Australia when he was five. Sixteen years later he returned to Blighty and earned a living as a rugby professional with Bristol, where for two years he worked with Dean Ryan. Having made the short journey to Bath he is in his fifth season at the Recreation Ground.

Things are going well at the club but not that well – why else would Steve Borthwick, the captain, choose to defect to Saracens at the end of this season? As a result Borthwick has lost the captaincy. "It's a great shame to see him go," Lipman said. "We will not only lose a player but a really good coach. He's helped me so much with my line-out work."

And that's another factor that has got Lipman back in the limelight. Bring on the Frenchies? It's the thought of playing France in Paris in a few weeks' time that excited him. He is professional enough to know that if he doesn't do what he's supposed to do against the Italians then he could become history part two.

"I expect a very physical, very confrontational, very tough game in Rome. In fact, it will be brutal. The pressure is on us but I can't wait to get out there and play alongside the likes of Jonny Wilkinson. I'm pretty confident and very, very happy. It feels great."

All his family are back in Sydney, where his twin brother, James, plays scrum-half for Warringah. On the rugby field there is not a lot of confusion between the two. Michael is recognised as a top-notch, old-fashioned even, breakaway flanker... James is a part-timer. His day job, if that is the correct way of putting it, is running nightclubs.