No new caps, no change of captain. Andy Robinson is banking on continuity ahead of this weekend's second Test against South Africa at Twickenham, even though a significant majority of English rugby's great and good consider continuity to be the last thing the world champions need in respect of their head coach. A second victory over the Boks in the space of seven days will give Robinson a fighting chance of keeping his job when the hirers and firers discuss their options at the beginning of next month. A defeat might save them meeting at all.
For all the heat generated by the bonfire burning away beneath Robinson's seat, the West Countryman remains admirably cool. He was at his best yesterday - honest, straightforward, to the point and entirely confident in his ability to deliver a performance on Saturday. He has armed himself with a more mobile tight-forward unit - Phil Vickery replaces the stricken Andrew Sheridan at loose-head prop, Lee Mears slips into the hooking role ahead of George Chuter, Chris Jones rightly gets the nod over Ben Kay at lock - and invested a whole lot of faith in Andy Goode at outside-half.
In a sense, this last selection was of the Hobson's choice variety. Charlie Hodgson's long-term injury, Jonny Wilkinson's endless battle with his own body, Olly Barkley's lack of hard rugby, Toby Flood's inexperience... all these factors tilted the balance in favour of the Leicester goal-kicker. Yet it is also fair to say that Goode tilted the balance towards himself by playing with such commendable common sense off the bench in the final stages of last Saturday's international. Along with Vickery, he was instrumental in squeezing the Springboks dry in the last 20 minutes of nerve- ravaging rugby.
Goode has lost 10 kilograms in weight since last summer, but managed to avoid shedding so much as an ounce of his old self-belief. "I played the game required to win the match," he said of his most recent contribution to the national cause. "We were kicking poorly and getting caught behind the gain line. We had to get ourselves some territory. It was a simple plan, but it needed executing."
Robinson was suitably sympathetic towards Hodgson, whose ruptured knee ligament may well prevent him participating in the World Cup next year. "I feel desperately sorry for Charlie, for Andrew Sheridan and for the Sale club as a whole. But this has happened and we have to move on.
"Andy has a real understanding of the game and while I don't want to put unnecessary pressure on him, if he can make a big statement this weekend heading into the Heineken Cup and the Six Nations Championship he can put a real hold on the No 10 shirt. He needs to take this match by the scruff of the neck and mastermind it."
There has not been too much in the way of masterminding these past three weeks, hence the theory that Vickery might have been handed the captaincy for the final international of the year. "I'm particularly concerned about what's been happening in the 10 minutes before the interval," the coach admitted, thinking of the All Blacks' 15-point rampage in first-half injury time, the Pumas' successful chipping away of an early England lead the following week and the Springboks' breaking free at the same point last time out. "Is it a question of concentration, of fitness, of wear and tear? Whatever, we're talking about poor game management."
This was precisely the view offered by Rob Andrew, the Rugby Football Union's elite director of rugby, when he pointed the finger at Martin Corry's captaincy in the wake of the defeat by Argentina. Yesterday, however, Robinson defended his decision to keep the No 8 in situ. "He was probably under the most pressure of any of us last week, but he led from the front and responded well," the head coach said. "Leadership is a key issue, so we make comments when we feel we don't have the direction we need. Last week, we did have the direction."
England team v South Africa
(at Twickenham, Saturday, kick-off 14.30)
J Lewsey (Wasps)
M Cueto (Sale Sharks)
M Tait (Newcastle)
J Noon (Newcastle)
B Cohen (Northampton)
A Goode (Leicester)
P Richards (Gloucester)
P Vickery (Wasps)
L Mears (Bath)
J White (Leicester)
T Palmer (Wasps)
C Jones (Sale Sharks)
J Worsley (Wasps)
P Sanderson (Worcester)
M Corry (Leicester, capt)
Replacements: G Chuter (Leicester), T Payne (Wasps), B Kay (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester), S Perry (Bristol), T Flood (Newcastle), M van Gisbergen (Wasps).Reuse content