Lund an open secret in the new model England
Sale flanker a joker as Robinson's inventive selection face tough initiation
Sunday 11 June 2006
"If I were a sentimental person," said Andy Robinson, the England head coach, on the eve of today's opening Cook Cup Test with Australia, "I'd have picked Joe Worsley for his 50th cap. It hasn't happened." Too right it hasn't, much to Worsley's bitter frustration. And the reason? Step forward Magnus Lund, who will be winning his very first cap in a remodelled back row featuring three open-side flankers, no blind-side specialist and no career No 8. It is a gamble of considerable proportions against a Wallaby unit featuring two men of 6ft 6in and a third, the diminutive George Smith, who plays like the biggest man on the planet.
It can only be assumed that the shop-soiled world champions, down on their luck after two desperate Six Nations campaigns, are planning something extremely crafty in the hunter-gatherer department. Pat Sanderson, the captain, has been named at No 8, having played all his rugby for Worcester in the No 7 shirt, while Lewis Moody, a natural No 6 in the eyes of many, will wear No 7 despite growing reservations about his ball-winning ability on the floor. Which leaves Lund, who played a season-long blinder for Sale in the open-side position, only to find himself on the blind side of the scrum on his international debut.
"This is about the three of them together, rather than three individuals performing specific roles," Robinson explained yesterday. "You could argue that the best back row England ever put on the field had Richard Hill, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio as its components, and when you boil it down, Hill and Back were both open-side flankers by instinct. We've selected a unit we believe will give us an extra dimension at the line-out as well as move around the field at a pace that enables them to get underneath the opposition and win us possession. Most importantly, they can all read the game. To my mind, that is crucial."
While Sanderson has been anything but relaxed during the build-up to this game - a groin injury prevented him training fully until late last week - Moody and Lund have been so laid-back as to border on the horizontal. "There is no rule against playing two open-side flankers together," Moody said with a shrug of the shoulders. "The Aussies did it for years with Smith and Phil Waugh, and may end up doing so again."
For his part, Lund, who finished on the winning side against his new partner in the Premiership final at Twickenham 15 days ago, was in shoulder-shrugging mood. "We have to be confident," he said. "I have good players around me. What more can I ask?"
Robinson has always been a keen supporter of Moody; indeed, he once described him as a "given" in terms of selection. When the Leicester flanker, regularly forced on to the blind-side slot at club level, first by Back and then by Shane Jennings, asked to be considered as a specialist breakaway at international level, the coach was happy to play ball. "Andy sees me as a seven, which is how I've always seen myself," Moody said last week. "I'm relieved. At Leicester, I've never been given the opportunity to play regularly in the position, and if you're always chopping and changing, it's difficult to develop consistency. I've asked my coaches to stop swapping me."
If England were to introduce the high-performance Lund to their mix - and they very much wanted to do so, given their concerns over a Rolls-Royce of a Wallaby line-out and the obvious need to compete with Smith on the floor - they would have to box clever. Hence the new arrangement. The Wallabies will understand their opponents' motives, having run Smith and Waugh in tandem against New Zealand in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, specifically to nullify the great Richie McCaw. It worked a treat. Increasingly, modern rugby union places a premium on inventive selection.
England have experimented in virtually every area of their team: they have a new back three that may have a future together, a centre pairing that has a strictly temporary look to it, a debutant at scrum-half, a front row featuring a prop in Graham Rowntree who is preparing for semi-retirement and a pair of locks with one cap between them. As George Gregan, the Wallaby captain, has 118 caps all to himself and is surrounded by such luminaries as Stephen Larkham, Mat Rogers, Stirling Mortlock and Lote Tuqiri, it is asking an enormous amount of the least experienced red rose side in eight years to find their collective feet sufficiently quickly to deny their hosts a much-needed victory.
Yet it is perfectly possible to imagine the likes of Mathew Tait, the Newcastle centre, and Tom Varndell, the super-quick Leicester wing, showing enough of themselves to give the reigning champions fresh hope ahead of next year's World Cup in France. Lund falls into the same bracket. He has an international pedigree - his Norwegian father, Morten, played basketball for his country - and a highly physical approach to go with it. He has a sense of humour, too.
"When I first started making my way in professional rugby, they got to hear of it in Oslo," he said. "I had a couple of phone calls, asking me if I was interested in playing for Norway. England, or Norway? You can't believe how massive a decision it was. I tossed and turned about it for ages." Sometimes, sarcasm is the highest form of wit.
15 C Latham (Reds)
14 M Gerrard (Brumbies)
13 S Mortlock (Brumbies)
12 M Rogers (Waratahs)
11 L Tuqiri (Waratahs)
10 S Larkham (Brumbies)
9 G Gregan (Brumbies, capt)
1 G Holmes (Reds)
2 T McIsaac (Force)
3 R Blake (Reds)
4 N Sharpe (Force)
5 D Vickerman (Waratahs)
6 D Heenan (Brumbies)
8 R Elsom (Waratahs)
7 G Smith (Brumbies)
Replacements: 16 J Paul (Brumbies), 17 A Baxter (Waratahs), 18 M Chisholm (Brumbies), 19 P Waugh (Waratahs), 20 J Valentine (Reds), 21 C Rathbone (Brumbies), 22 C Shepherd (Force).
15 I Balshaw (Gloucester)
14 T Varndell (Leicester)
13 M Tait (Newcastle)
12 M Catt (London Irish)
11 T Voyce (Wasps)
10 O Barkley (Bath)
9 P Richards (Gloucester)
1 G Rowntree (Leicester)
2 L Mears (Bath)
3 J White (Leicester)
4 L Deacon (Leicester)
5 A Brown (Gloucester)
6 M Lund (Sale)
8 P Sanderson (Worcester, capt)
7 L Moody (Leicester)
Replacements: 16 G Chuter (Leicester), 17 T Payne (Wasps), 18 C Jones (Sale), 19 J Worsley (Wasps), 20 N Walshe (Bath), 21 A Goode (Leicester), 22 J Noon (Newcastle).
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland)
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