Andrew Sheridan, very much the symbol of the England rugby team in these parts and still commonly regarded as the world's most destructive loose-head prop despite his ups and downs against the All Blacks in Auckland at the weekend, is doubtful for this weekend's second and final Test – not because of disciplinary issues, although New Zealand broadcasters spent yesterday whipping up a story about him drinking after hours during the build-up to the match at Eden Park, but because of a nasty eye injury.
Sheridan is having an interesting time of it. Forced from the field after 65 minutes of Saturday's fruitless contest after rising from a scrum with blood gushing from a wound over his left eye – he came into contact with a stud on the boot of his front-row colleague Lee Mears and needed a dozen stitches – initial medical assessments gave no clue as to his chances of participating in the forthcoming game at the AMI Stadium. "There is lots of inflammation and it needs to settle before a judgement can be made," said the forwards coach, John Wells. "I'm not offering an opinion one way or the other. Let's wait for him to be examined properly."
Wells had more to say on the allegation that the Sale front-rower had been spotted drinking in an Auckland bar with two unnamed colleagues late last Wednesday night, although in New Zealand, "late" means anything after 9.30pm.
"I very much doubt all this," the coach said. "We're in the public eye here and there is always likely to be a slur flying around. I have no problems with the professionalism of anyone in this party and I'm sure the squad will be disappointed at the accusations." Sheridan himself was flabbergasted by the whole thing.
It would have been no surprise had the England back-room staff felt in need of a dozen stiff drinks in the aftermath of the Auckland Test, which the hosts might easily have won by a truly embarrassing margin. Instead, the coaching panel were intent on "taking the positives from the situation," to use the common expression. Wells pronounced himself well satisfied with the performance of James Haskell, Tom Rees and Luke Narraway in the back row – this was not unreasonable, in all fairness – while Graham Rowntree, the scrummaging technician, said that while his players finished second in the set-piece engagement, there was potential for improvement.
"I'd be happier if I was the New Zealand scrum coach," said the former Leicester prop. "Let's not beat about the bush: we were under pressure from a good scrummaging outfit, who really tested us out. Will the All Blacks be better in Christchurch than they were in Auckland? Not too much better, I hope. For us, the challenge is to be smarter – to deal with their speed and dynamism more capably than we did at the weekend. I think that's possible."
While Wells was encouraged by the loose trio – "For a young combination, I thought they gave the All Blacks a bloody rough time by getting stuck in, showing no fear and challenging them on their own ball" – he advised against any rush to judgement on the state of English back play, despite the disparity between the tourists and their stronger, faster opponents. "It's a fair comparison to make on the evidence of Saturday, but there are a number of England backs who aren't touring," he said. "We need to be very careful where we draw the start and finish lines in this argument."Reuse content