Robinson looks to Van Gisbergen for reinforcement

Unfortunately for Robinson and his world champions - how shop-soiled that label now seems after nine defeats in 16 outings since striking gold in Sydney 22 months ago - Marshall's scrum-half expertise is, and will remain, at the service of Leeds and Leeds alone. Sadly, the Keven Mealamus and Anton Olivers of front-row renown are under lock and key in Auckland and Dunedin.

Van Gisbergen, the newly qualified Wasps full-back, may provide an answer at one extremity of the English spine, while Martin Corry of Leicester is a certainty to lead the side from the other end. The nightmare concerns the bits in between. Scrum-half and hooker are not so much headaches as full-blown migraines, given the acute shortage of top-grade talent. Ideally, the coach would pick three players in each position: two proven international operators and one bolter with the words "Test" and "potential" stamped all over him. In reality, Robinson is short of options in both roles - roles that just happen to be the most technically demanding of the lot. There is not even any solace to be found in the national academy.

Ben Foden, the one scrum-half in the batch, is not likely to play serious first-team rugby for Sale any time soon, while the clutch of hookers - Chris Brooker and Rob Hawkins of Bath, Dylan Hartley of Northampton - are as green as the grass on which they all too rarely play.

At least the coach has some numbers in the centre positions, where hardened Test performers like Mike Tindall are contesting preferment with the likes of Ollie Smith, Stuart Abbott, Olly Barkley and Jamie Noon, one of the few men to catch the eye in last season's Six Nations Championship. It is a sign of the fluidity of the situation that Noon is not sure of his ground, despite being the man in possession of the No 13 shirt.

"I feel a little under pressure because I am technically the man with the jersey," the Newcastle midfielder said yesterday. "In previous years, I've felt I had a chance and, as a result, gone a little bit to pot. But I'm more relaxed about it now. It was always my dream to be in the England team, and I finally got a good run in the side last season. I didn't want it to end at the time and I badly want some more."

In the Premiership, the referee Roy Maybank has withdrawn the yellow card he flourished in the direction of the French international flanker Olivier Magne during the match between London Irish and Bristol last weekend. Magne was sent to the sin bin for making physical contact with Maybank and his absence might easily have cost the Exiles a hard-won victory. Indeed, the Rugby Football Union would have been under pressure to take stern action had video evidence suggested he had acted recklessly.

However, London Irish argued their player had no case to answer, and, after reviewing the film footage, Maybank agreed the clash had been accidental.

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