Power back on, invention still missing

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The Independent Online

If team are made in the image of their coach, are England the fists-clenched version of Andy Robinson, screaming with frustration at the concession of a try to Drew Mitchell? Or the Robinson who punched the air at Mark Cueto's match-clinching try, rose to his feet and turned slowly through 360 degrees barely aware of his surroundings? On balance, the average Twickenham attendee draining his or her glass last night and taking a cue from the state of the ground would have erred towards three-quarters full rather than a quarter empty.

That Robinson, a year into the top job, coaxed such a pulverising display from his forwards - which used to be his only sphere of influence under Sir Clive Woodward - suggests a future brighter than the doubt-riddled four defeats in eight matches of the past 12 months. Look through that glass a little more darkly, however, and ponder how England, with 71 per cent of the possession, eked out only a single try in each half.

"There will always be doom-mongers who attack us for winning the game," said Robinson. "The patience we showed for the Cueto try, and the combination of backs and forwards running, was good. The Ben Cohen try was different, achieved through good hands. All in all, it was a very pleasing start."

The joke before kick-off was that one of the two head coaches was bound to be running through a revised CV in his dreams last night - simply insert the name of the defeated team and delete the name Robinson or Eddie Jones as applicable. Such are the sentiments when the last two holders of the Rugby World Cup meet with only fourth place in the world rankings at stake, behind New Zealand, South Africa and France.

Most of the time, Robinson keeps his emotions in check. Undoubtedly, though, the sight of the England scrum trundling forward at a rate of knots would have brought a full-on welling-up of the competitive juices. And if the coach could choose for himself an image for his team, it would be drawn in the lumpen, lumbering form of the loosehead prop, Andrew Sheridan.

"We attacked their line-out and won three or four balls early on," said Robinson. "And then the power of the scrum came through, which allowed the forwards to run. I thought he [Sheridan] had a top game, he really did. He's been waiting for this for six months. It's important for him to say this is the start. What was put in front of him today, he destroyed, and that's all you can ask of a player. He's got a very different challenge next week."

That challenge, as if any one needs reminding, is in the menacing shape of the All Blacks. And England will lose unless they can follow Sheridan's wrecking ball with some better use of the ball. Robinson - who, it should be noted, was advancing the former No 8's front-row potential a long way back - deceived us when he picked his first squad of the season. Creative types such as Ollie Smith, James Simpson-Daniel and Stuart Abbott were called but ultimately not chosen.

Whatever happens, Robinson will not experience the attention given to his football counterpart. It would be rare for the red-tops to be after Robbo. While Sven Goran Eriksson occupies the news pages, Robinson resides near the back, discussing the merits of Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio. But it is contentious that both are fit and playing for their clubs, and overlooked by their country. Big decisions in Twickenham circles, albeit ones which will be shimmering only distantly in the afterglow of victory.

For that above all, Robinson will be thankful. As much as he fought to present a calm exterior, his words betrayed the relief. In fact he almost said it twice. "We know we can move on now," he said. "We know what to do to move on."

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