Matt Dawson says he does not expect to be around for ever, although his confidence is such that he has seldom appeared to discount the possibility of immortality. He is very much around right now, though. Recalled to arms at scrum-half for England's big Six Nations match with France in Paris on Sunday, the 33-year-old Wasp has been charged with bossing the red rose pack with an authority that proved wholly beyond his young rival, Harry Ellis of Leicester, in Edinburgh 11 days ago.
Quite what this signifies in terms of next year's World Cup - another French production, as it happens - is not entirely clear. Ellis will certainly be in contention for Webb Ellis Trophy duty, as will Shaun Perry of Bristol, the coming man at No 9. Then there is Ben Foden of Sale, highly rated even though he never gets a crack at playing with the grown-ups, and Clive Stuart-Smith of the Llanelli Scarlets, a lost talent beginning to rediscover his bearings in west Wales. But Dawson? At 35? Umm.
"A lot of ingredients go into getting myself on the field each week, but I'm enjoying my rugby and if things continue for the next 18 months, it will lead into the World Cup," said the three-time British and Irish Lions tourist yesterday after learning of his promotion.
"I'm realistic about the age thing, but there are a number of people playing good international rugby in their 30s and while I'm involved with England, I want to push for the top spot. I don't want to make life easy for anyone."
Andy Robinson, the head coach, insisted with some ferocity that both Ellis and the other casualty from Murrayfield, the Sale loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan, had done little wrong - an intriguing comment, given his decision to drop the two of them. He explained himself by suggesting that both Dawson's summons and the reappearance of Matt Stevens in the front row were selections of the "horses for courses" variety and for all his soft-soaping of the fallen men, there was a degree of logic behind his decision.
"It was always part of my planning to target Matt for a start during the tournament and I expect him to manage the forwards slightly better than Harry," the coach said. "As for the front row, I think it vital that we get the right-hand side of our scrum spot-on. I've picked our best tight-head specialist in [Julian] White. At the same time, I regard Stevens as our best prop in terms of his mobility and the things he offers away from the scrum. This, I believe, is the best combination to take on the French, who pose a completely different challenge to the one we faced in Scotland."
No serious consideration was given to changing the back row of Joe Worsley, Lewis Moody and Martin Corry, the captain, despite Robinson's much-debated substituting of the latter during the final quarter in Edinburgh.
Lawrence Dallaglio remains on the bench, and it is increasingly clear that Robinson sees him as an impact player. This may not please Dallaglio, but there the matter rests.
Asked whether he felt he had undermined Corry's position by hauling him off the Murrayfield paddock in favour of Dallaglio, the coach narrowed his eyes and shifted threateningly in his seat.
"No, I don't think that," he snapped. "I had no preconceived ideas; it was simply a case of us being 12-9 down and requiring some freshness and impact off the bench. It was a call that needed making, and it was made. Martin is our captain and he has the total respect of the team." Asked whether the furore might affect his future thinking on this issue, Robinson's response was blunt. "No," he said.
France will confirm their line-up today, after a thorough check on the fitness of the Toulouse centre Florian Fritz. With David Marty, Benôit Baby and the brilliant Yannick Jauzion on the physio's slab, the Tricolores can ill afford to take the field without Fritz, who is suffering from knee trouble.
Six Nations teams
ENGLAND (to play France at the Stade de France, Sunday, 3pm)
J Lewsey (Wasps); M Cueto (Sale), J Noon (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester), B Cohen (Northampton); C Hodgson (Sale), M Dawson (Wasps); M Stevens (Bath), S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), S Borthwick, D Grewcock (both Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester, capt). Replacements: L Mears (Bath), A Sheridan (Sale), S Shaw (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps), H Ellis, A Goode (both Leicester), T Voyce (Wasps).
SCOTLAND (to play Ireland at Lansdowne Road, Saturday, 3.30pm)
H Southwell; C Paterson, M Di Rollo (all Edinburgh), A Henderson (Glasgow), S Lamont (Northampton); D Parks (Glasgow), M Blair (Edinburgh); G Kerr (Leeds), D Hall (Edinburgh), B Douglas (Borders), N Hines (US Perpignan), S Murray (Edinburgh), J White (Sale, capt), A Hogg, S Taylor (both Edinburgh). Replacements: S Lawson (Glasgow), C Smith, A Kellock (both Edinburgh), J Petrie (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders), G Ross (Leeds), S Webster (Edinburgh).
G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy (all Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster); R O'Gara, P Stringer; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes (all Munster), two from: M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell, D O'Callaghan or M O'Driscoll (all Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), D Wallace (Munster), D Leamy (Munster). Replacements: R Best, S Best (both Ulster), M O'Kelly or P O'Connell or D O'Callaghan or M O'Driscoll, J O'Connor, E Reddan (both Wasps), D Humphreys (Ulster), G Dempsey (Leinster).Reuse content