Ruck and Maul: Easter's up for Red Rose leadership job but still backs 'Borthers'

Harlequins No 8 Nick Easter admits he is "up to do it" if asked to be the England captain even though he believes Steve Borthwick has "most likely still got the role". The squad will find out for certain on the Algarve tomorrow morning at the start of a week-long training camp. "I'm up to do it if he [England manager Martin Johnson] offered it to me," Easter told Ruck and Maul as he helped launch the 'Gatorade Gives Back' campaign with Ugo Monye and Danny Care. "The captain needs the respect of the players, and to be performing week in, week out to a high standard. He also displays himself that way in training. 'Borthers' is playing as well as ever, leading Saracens, and was probably one of the best players against New Zealand in England's last game." The timing of Johnson's latest captaincy announcement will echo that of the autumn Tests, when Borthwick was handed the job on the Monday of the fortnight leading up to the first match; Easter, however, was unavailable, having injured a calf two days beforehand. Easter also believes the power to lean on Test referees – a forte of Johnson's in his playing days – is waning. "Refs are human and you can influence them, but definitely less so than in days gone by," Easter said. "They are a bit more headstrong than they used to be and some of them have the attitude of 'don't want to speak to you, I spoke to you at the start of the game', no matter who you are."

Johnson's Portu-geezers

England's Algarve trip is not one for the gym monkeys, with tactics rather than onditioning dominating the schedule, including opposed training with Portugal's national team. Johnson and his captain will break off on Wednesday to appear at the Six Nations launch in London. And the players released early for their clubs' LV Cup matches this weekend will give a clue to the make-up of the England 22 for the following Saturday's showdown with Wales.

Invictus faces Oscar defeat

Much as the Americans adore Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, an unfamiliarity with rugby union is likely to see the trio's new movie 'Invictus' – on Nelson Mandela and South Africa's 1995 World Cup win – empty-handed at this year's Oscars. "A film like Sandra Bullock's 'The Blind Side', which is about the NFL, will do bigger business," an 'Invictus' insider told Ruck and Maul.

London Welsh are rallying

London Welsh are fighting back despite wearing faces as red as their jerseys after admitting "grave doubts" about "what appeared to be genuine HSBC documents" during the sale of the club last summer, and four months spent waiting in vain for the cash which the now former owner Neil Hollinshead convinced shareholders, administrators and the RFU was at his disposal. The club say the players who have taken them to third place in the Championship have always been paid on time, and creditors who agreed to write off debts of £1.3 million when the club came out of administration will not be revisiting the decision. The managing director and restored shareholder, John Taylor, is already speaking of "one very exciting investment link-up" for next season which would be "blue-chip rugby money": in other words a person or persons already involved in the game.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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