Lydon leads demands for England's quality time

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The Independent Online

All was not sweetness and light in the England camp yesterday, despite Martin Corry's cast-iron assurance that he had recovered from his rib injury and would be fit to lead his country in the opening match of the Six Nations Championship against Wales this weekend.

Two of the red rose coaching panel, Phil Larder and Joe Lydon, gave voice to a deep-seated frustration over the lack of preparation time for the Twickenham match - the direct result of the recent political falling out between the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership clubs.

Lydon, the former Great Britain rugby league international who has responsibility for the world champions' attacking game, has been feeling the critical heat since the England midfield were seen fumbling around in a creative vacuum during the Tests against Australia and New Zealand in November. Three days before the most significant Six Nations match since the Grand Slam game in Dublin almost three years ago, he warned that the restrictions within which he and his colleagues were currently operating made the prospect of a more imaginative approach more distant than it might otherwise have been.

"This is not an excuse, it's a fact of life," he said. "Being together over the course of a championship does give us an opportunity to develop new aspects of our game, but it is not practical to do it before the opening match when we have been together for so limited a period of time.

"Does the pragmatic approach go against my rugby instincts? Probably, but it's a question of circumstances."

Larder was considerably more outspoken, as befitted the longest-serving of England's senior coaches.

"Joe is a great man-manager and brings an enormous amount of enthusiasm to the mix," said the defensive specialist as he set about defending Lydon and his contribution to the squad, "but he is frustrated, as are we all. We need a lot more coaching time. I've had two sessions ahead of this game, which is not ideal if we're looking to make progress.

"We've cut our cloth accordingly, but there is quite a lot to do with these players when they come to us. Quite honestly, I'm not convinced in my own mind that our core skills are as good as those in some other countries. This is not a criticism of the coaches at club level; they have their own battles to win. I'm simply making the point that our position is a difficult one."

If there were reasons for Larder to be cheerful about the forthcoming tussle with the 2005 Grand Slammers, they largely surrounded England's defensive performance in Cardiff a year ago - "Wales are one of the three best attacking teams in the world, yet they scored only one try against us at the Millennium Stadium and needed a pretty special kick to win the game," he pointed out - and the growing stature of Corry as a leader of men. "I don't know of anyone in this squad who underestimates his captaincy skills," Larder said. "Martin leads from the front, he's intelligent and has incredible strength of character."

This must have been music to Corry's ears, given the publicity surrounding Lawrence Dallaglio's return to active duty, 17 months after walking away from the England captaincy. Speaking for himself, the Leicester No 8 flatly denied that the common obsession with Dallaglio and his selection on the bench had been a source of irritation.

"I'm desperate to play in this game, as is Lawrence, but he's not being treated differently to anyone else," Corry said. "Lawrence brings a wealth of experience with him and when he feels something needs saying, he says it. It's not an issue. He's simply getting on with his job."

On the subject of the rivals without, as opposed to the rival within, Corry was his usual honest self.

"We need a result," he said, bluntly. "I'd like to think we'll deliver an improved performance too, but if I have to choose between the two, I'll take the win. The first game of a championship is always momentous, because if you don't get the victory, the Grand Slam is the first thing out of the window."