David Flatman: A thing of beauty. Now England look at the bigger picture
From the Front Row
Sunday 09 December 2012
Once the kerfuffle has calmed somewhat, it is interesting to view recent happenings as part of a bigger picture. Yes, I now dabble in marketing. But it is true; England thumped the unthumpables at HQ and everyone was sufficiently ebullient that, frankly, we could justifiably never take to the field again and still live in credit for evermore.
Of course, nobody really thinks England have conquered the world, least of all the blokes involved. But it was the bigger picture that led to the All Blacks victory being celebrated with such immediacy. A short while ago we, the sporting public, were informed that a man who was not terribly famous and not – dare we even remember – one of the "Big Five" of world rugby coaching was taking over our national team. Some scoffed, some supported, all waited with bated breath to see what on earth would become of an institution so embedded in our culture and heritage that we almost feel ownership over it.
What rolled out was a team that, despite being mainly made up of lads barely out of school, showed a level of grit, aggression and unity that made the whole rugby world sit up and wonder; might this lot be on to something? So we hit the autumn internationals – and stumbled. The fact that it was two of the great rugby nations who, by little more than whiskers, sent England down seemed almost irrelevant.
We were riding a wave of hope and these losses seemed, to some at least, to render said hope false. It was in a pit of doom that we watched England take the field last weekend, but they shut us all up and were utterly magnificent. Wonderful. Hope restored to a nation.
So what about this bigger picture, then? Well, there are two at the moment, actually. Had we lost to the All Blacks, we would not, in my view, have been a lost cause searching for new leadership, and quick. We would have been what we were anyway; a young side full of belief and focused on beating these teams three years from now, when it really matters.
But what this victory does is threaten to slightly tweak proceedings both at the next World Cup and this summer, when it comes to Lions selection. England have shown they are for real, and this serves both to demand respect from those down south and to potentially shake up the Irish-heavy line-up many have been predicting in recent months.
The Welsh hopefuls have struggled to strut their stuff behind a pack missing that key ingredient named Adam Jones. His absence has cost them dear and he may well find himself wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of his days, the lucky bugger. Scotland, despite a quite unexpected loss to Tonga, still boast a number of players who look likely to tour, not least Kelly Brown and Richie Gray. But England are now right back in the mix.
Wouldn't you love to know who is pinned up on the board in Warren Gatland's study under the heading "1st XV"? I always think it both pointless and childish when columnists offer up the team they would pick. Here is mine...
My Lions side
1. Cian Healey (Ire): Quality athlete who does real damage around the park.
2. Rory Best (Ire): Top-of-the-range player. Knits pack together.
3. Dan Cole (Eng): His tackle count and breakdown work nudge him ahead of Adam Jones.
4. Paul O'Connell (Ire, capt): If fit, has the temperament and experience to become the man around which a series win is built.
5. Courtney Lawes (Eng): Strikes fear into the heart of every ball-carrier he faces. A hit machine.
6. Stephen Ferris (Ire): Freakishly good. Must be kept fit.
7. Sam Warburton (Wales): Has not hit top form lately, but an incredible specimen with the talent to inspire.
8. Nick Easter (Eng): Right now he is better than everyone else.
9. Mike Phillips (Wales): Must find form but brutally powerful on his day. If he cannot find it, Ben Youngs plays.
10. Jonny Sexton (Ire): Cocky, calm and very accomplished. Remarkable temperament.
11. Tommy Bowe (Ire): Pure quality.
12. Jonathan Davies (Wales): Plays here to accommodate the king outside him…
13. Brian O'Driscoll (Ire): Come on. If he can run, he plays.
14. George North (Wales): A big problem for the Aussies if used wisely by Sexton and Co.
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)/Rob Kearny (Ire): I could not decide. Good luck, Mr Gatland.
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