Regan recalls days of pitbulls and poodles

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is almost impossible to quibble at England's latest fissure driven through France's fragile psyche, not much more than a few weeks after the same result in the World Cup semi-final against the same opposition on the same ground. Richard Wigglesworth did not care, when he tossed the ball in the Parisian night air after scoring the clinching try, if some fantastical notion of the way the Red Rose ought to blossom stayed out of reach. England may be wedded to wins based on other teams' frailties but the French last night had plenty of those and suffered fresh agonies as a result.

So beautiful, expansive England will have to wait. Snarling, provocative England held sway and didn't the French know it. "The behaviour of the England hooker was unacceptable," said France's head coach, Marc Lièvremont, of Mark "Ronnie" Regan, who dislocated his own finger but more importantly drove Les Bleus to distraction. "It really wasn't in the spirit of the game. He took a minute over every line-out, he was provocative, he was grotesque, a bit of a clown really."

The response of Bristol's feistiest? "We were horrible and arrogant just like we were in the World Cup," Regan said. "We got in their faces and the boys did the job as intended. If the French coach criticises me, I've done my job."

Really it was quite like old times, the French turned to whimpering poodles by a front-row Pitbull. The fact that Regan was withdrawn well before the end was, according to Brian Ashton, due only to the injured hand. "He is a good scrapper in the nicest sense of the word," said the head coach. "He's a great bloke the other guys like playing with." The other guys in white jerseys, that is.

In truth there was much more to it, like England blowing a line-out 10 metres from the French line with a couple of insipid rolling mauls before the French captain, Lionel Nallet, showed how it was done. Some archetypes were here for the ripping up. Others held firm.

Bringing up the rear on "Super Saturday" afforded the chance to tune into the day's first two matches. If you were watching French TV you would have seen an advert for double glazing in which a bored-looking married couple sit bolt upright in bed and metamorphose into a busty temptress and a muscular hunk. Quite what a new set of windows had to do with it was unclear, but could England be so easily transformed?

When Damien Traille missed a goal shortly before half-time Wigglesworth, England's scrum-half, shaped as if to pass in his in-goal area. Gadzooks! "England run from deep" headlines in the making. The moment passed, Wigglesworth saw Anglo-Saxon common sense and tossed the ball to Jonny Wilkinson for the drop-out, grinning a little sheepishly as he did so.

Wilkinson did much as he always does, kicking crucial goals and forcing any doubters among the English supporters here that he is still the man for the fly-half job. The penalty Wilkinson launched from halfway in the final quarter which flopped over the bar like a wet sponge felt like a hammer in the faces of the French. Ashton must still face the charge that Danny Cipriani could have been blooded at full-back from the start of the Six Nations. The assuredness shown by Wigglesworth made the previous retention of Andy Gomarsall all the more baffling.

In other ways the conservative way had right on its side. Andrew Sheridan loomed large in the scrum, physically and metaphorically. Do not forget, in Six Nations terms, England are coming from a long way back: third, fourth, fourth and third since 2004. As for coming from a long way back on the field, forget it. When Lesley Vainikolo called a mark in the first half and the ball went right, England barely made it out of their 22. Iain Balshaw had a dart and fed Paul Sackey but it was like running through a river of glue; the will is there, the execution not so. The counter attack remains Les Rosbifs' preferred taste, witness Jamie Noon clattering Cédric Heymans for Sackey's early try. When it came to nailing a big Test win, England experienced déjà vu all over again.

Comments