David Flatman: Craic is back thanks to cracking attack

From the Front Row: They may only have beaten Romania's seconds in Dunedin but the England boys were smiling, and that counts for a lot in the madness of a World Cup
Click to follow
The Independent Online

On paper this was a routine hammering for a lesser rugby nation at the hands of a tier-one superpower. Ten tries is always a great achievement in a Test match but, really, it was nothing the world did not expect. Yet this match – and, ultimately, its result – served to do more than tick a box for England. I think it might prove a more important evening's work than many might have suspected it would when the fixture was first announced.

Click HERE to view graphic (140k jpg)

You see, finally the England boys had a bit of craic on the field. Naturally, when mistakes were made there were expressions of frustration and the odd hand-up apology to expectant team-mates. But, more significantly, the players seemed to enjoy themselves. Considering the fortnight the team have been through, what with all the negative attention from the press – be it about discipline or dwarves – it's amazing they dared try anything at all. But they did, and wasn't it fabulous?

This match also gave Martin Johnson the opportunity to clarify certain selection issues. A lot seemed to be made of Jonny Wilkinson making way for Toby Flood at fly-half at half-time, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if this arrangement was made days ago. Many too seem to be amazed that maybe – just maybe – Johnson doesn't know precisely what his first team actually is.

I don't see why he should. There is clearly not a huge amount to choose from between Flood and Wilkinson (especially since Wilkinson started missing kicks with this new ball), so why not give them 40 minutes each in a match England are guaranteed to win and let them lay their cards on the table? Johnson will have expectedboth men to rise to a challenge of this nature, and he won't have been disappointed.

Wilkinson steered the ship as adeptly as ever and when the space was there he showed why he is regarded as one of the very best passers of a rugby ball. It is a simple skill but I tell you what, it's not half easy to get wrong. Then Flood arrived and duly prayed upon a Romanian defence that was showing some fatigue. Just the odd chink in their famous resilience opened in the second half. Flood looked to stretch them at every opportunity and not once did he miss the chance to scythe through a gap before feeding the wheels out wide. Both men were deeply impressive.

Every team selection needs to involve an appropriate blend of experience and current form, so surely this list will change. There are certain selections that, barring injury, are set in stone: Dan Cole, Steve Thompson, Lewis Moody, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi, Mike Tindall and the back three who tore Romania to pieces, Ben Foden, Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton.

But there are others that, understandably, need a lot of thought. The second-row selection for next week's massive match against Scotland will be extremely interesting. For pure physical impact I think Courtney Lawes has to play, but that leaves three top-of-the-range grafters to choose from. I expect an expert line-out caller will get the nod, but it is a 50-50 call between Tom Palmer and Louis Deacon.

Yesterday was important for the England scrum, too – this is a major weapon for Johnson's men and Andrew Sheridan's injury leaves a hole. Should Tim Payne not hear his mobile phone ring in the next day or so, Matt Stevens or Alex Corbisiero will assume the role of starting loosehead. Stevens was penalised a few times against Georgia with binding – or lack of – the named offence. I'm here to tell you that was a load of tosh: look hard enough at any scrum, line-out or breakdown and you can give a penalty. Stevens scrummaged very well that day and, at the same time, issued a challenge to Corbisiero.

It was a challenge that the London Irish man could not quite meet yesterday. He has always been very talented around the field and he has become a very effective scrummager too, but the Romanian scrum was entirely comfortable yesterday until a refreshed Cole came back on to the field (replacing an injured Corbisiero) for the last 20 minutes and ensured that the Romanians saw the game out in reverse.

We can sit and speculate all we want; it's part of the fun of a World Cup. But the good news is that, for English fans at least, this is no longer where the fun ends. We have now seen this England team fulfil some of their attacking potential; they seemed ambitious, confident and free.

A week is a long time in sport, however, and the Scottish team will have watched this match too. I bet they just cannot wait to wipe a few of those English smiles away. Now that will be some contest.

So what happens if?

1. Scotland beat Argentina today. They will have 13 or 14 points and will face England in Auckland with both teams certain to qualify for the quarter-finals but the winners set to avoid hosts New Zealand in the last eight. Argentina – third in the 2007 World Cup – would be unable to qualify.



2. Argentina win today. They will have 10 or 11 points, with a probable five more to add against Georgia. That would leave England, currently on 14 points, at risk of elimination if they lose to Scotland.



3. England, Scotland and Argentina finish level on match points. The first separator would be points difference from all their matches, with England currently well ahead on that count.

Comments