Ruck and Maul: Johnno gives nothing away to pack of hacks after a snifter

Martin Johnson's latest meeting with the media at Twickenham on Wednesday was notable for the jaded expressions greeting the revised England and Saxons squads. One reason was the usual labyrinthine explanation of the elite player agreement. New squad member Chris Ashton admitted he has yet to work out how he replaced Phil Vickery – it's because selections need not be like-for-like in terms of playing position if the change is made for injury. The other reason was the minimal number of hours which had elapsed – for some – since the conclusion of the previous night's Rugby Writers' Club dinner (at which Brian O'Driscoll was announced as the winner of the annual Pat Marshall Memorial Award). "Good timing for you fellas," said Johnno with a grin as glasses of mineral water were passed round. He was quizzed about the England captaincy, as routine dictates. He is sticking to his custom of naming a captain shortly before the next series of matches. So is there any alternative to Steve Borthwick? "Jonny [Wilkinson] and Lewis [Moody] came in and helped with leadership in the autumn," he said, and that was about as far as it went.

School rules league table

Ashton of Northampton was once, of course, Ashton of Wigan in rugby league and much has been made of the success or otherwise of England's code-crossers. But the call-up also extends the influence in union of one school in Wigan. The Wales defence coach, Shaun Edwards, was accompanied by the conditioning experts Craig White and Paul Stridgeon on last summer's Lions tour, and Stridgeon (aka Bobby Boucher after Adam Sandler's character in 'The Waterboy') is now working with England. All of them attended St John Fisher Catholic High School in Wigan, as did Ashton and Owen Farrell, son of Andy, the new Saxons assistant coach. "It's a massive rugby league school and if you were any good you wanted to go there," Ashton told Ruck and Maul. He also mentioned that his mother's father was a Gaelic footballer. Who did he play for, Chris? "Ireland." Hmm.

Red card for football fools

The disciplinary hearing to investigate Brendan Venter's alleged criticism or implied criticism of the referee David Rose in a BBC radio interview after the recent Saracens v Leicester match will take place in London on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see how much discussion is encouraged by the RFU disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, of the general principle of commenting on referees in public. An experiment a couple of years ago in South Africa, to bring officials to press conferences after games, was soon abandoned. It's fair to say rugby views football as the big, bad model not to be followed. Anyone spot the Cardiff Blues scrum-half Richie Rees give the hand-waving "yellow card, ref!" gesticulation last weekend? Cut it out.

Who fixed the fixtures?

Whoever drew up the Guinness Premiership fixtures must have known something. The matches scheduled for the last day of the campaign in May seem magically aligned to the table as it currently stands. The top four, middle four and bottom four are grouped together with first playing second, fourth v third, sixth v fifth, seventh v eighth, 11th v ninth and 10th v 12th. Spooky.

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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