Robinson risks the dangers of extra creativity

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The Independent Online

Andy Robinson is in no mood to settle for a 6-3 kind of victory over Samoa at Twickenham this afternoon - not after watching his England side get within four points of the All Blacks seven days ago. The coach will be more than happy with a single-score lead after half an hour, however. If a team of Pacific islanders happen to approach the interval with any sort of lead, they can be menacing in the extreme. If they find themselves behind at the break, they are usually dead meat.

Robinson knows this only too well, having witnessed at first hand the red rose army's traumatic meeting with Samoa in the pool stage of the last World Cup. The islanders scored one of the more sensational tries in rugby history almost before England had touched the ball, kicked penalties from every conceivable angle and gave their supposed superiors all manner of hell for 70-odd minutes. No one in his right mind would consider Semo Sititi's side incapable of doing something similar this afternoon.

There are obvious dangers for England. They could, for instance, fall victim to the Lord Mayor's Show syndrome - entirely understandable, considering the amount they gave of themselves, both physically and emotionally, against New Zealand. On the other hand, they could easily be deflected from their purpose by the wide-ranging criticism of what passes for their attacking game. James Simpson-Daniel and Tom Voyce are high-risk players compared to Jamie Noon and Ben Cohen, their immediate predecessors in the starting line-up, and if they present the Samoans with some runnable ball by overdosing on their own creativity, anything might happen and probably will.

Needless to say, Robinson has gone out of his way to minimise the potential for foot-shooting amongst his charges. "There is a responsibility that comes with playing for England," he remarked yesterday, "and it is not something that should ever be taken for granted. As Englishmen, we like the idea of going in as underdogs and raising ourselves for high-pressure games. When we start as favourites, we can be a little slack. All I know is that Martin Corry and the other senior players have been saying exactly the right things this week."

Not for the first time, Robinson has been doing the wrong things in the eyes of one of the Premiership's directors of rugby. Rob Andrew, of Newcastle, reached for the megaphone yesterday to sound off about Noon's demotion from the squad, saying: "I think Jamie has been very harshly dealt with by the England management. He's been the form centre in English rugby all season, but is a victim of the England game plan. They don't play a style that would best utilise his unquestionable talents.

"He is understandably upset about it, but then he must be used to it by now because this is by no means the first time England have treated him in this way. I feel sorry for him, because having done the hard work against New Zealand and Australia, he has been denied a chance to cut loose against a team that England will, in all probability, beat quite easily."

All this was water off a duck's back as far as Robinson was concerned, although he did roll his eyes at Andrew's comments. "Everyone is entitled to his opinion and I think it's important that directors of rugby support their players," he said, diplomatically. "But let's not make an issue about it. Jamie has not been dropped as such, and I've explained that to him. The changes we've made for this game are about growing the side."

England need to grow plenty before the start of the Six Nations Championship in February. Although they are by far the strongest of the four British Isles sides - indeed, they may well be about to re-establish the superiority they enjoyed under Sir Clive Woodward between the last two World Cups - the French pose a significant threat to their chances of securing a first title since 2003, not least because this season's fixture will be played in Paris. On the evidence of the last fortnight, Robinson's team will not prevail there without a sharp increase in attacking productivity.

With Simpson-Daniel at outside centre, surrounded by the likes of Josh Lewsey and Charlie Hodgson, there are new and exciting possibilities on the creativity front. But England need to exercise some caution this afternoon. It is no good playing fast and loose with the Sailosi Tagicakibaus and Tanner Vilis of this world - at least, not until the fragile Samoan tight forwards have been reduced to dust. A 6-3 lead after 30 minutes, followed by four tries in the last quarter? That would do nicely.

Today's Twickenham teams


15 J Lewsey (Wasps)

14 M Cueto (Sale)

13 J Simpson-Daniel (Glos)

12 M Tindall (Gloucester)

11 T Voyce (Wasps)

10 C Hodgson (Sale)

9 H Ellis (Leicester)

1 A Sheridan (Sale)

2 S Thompson (North'ton)

3 M Stevens (Bath)

4 S Borthwick (Bath)

5 L Deacon (Leicester)

6 P Sanderson (Worcester)

7 L Moody (Leicester)

8 M Corry (Leicester, capt)

Replacements: 16 L Mears (Bath); 17 P Freshwater (Perpignan); 18 S Shaw (Wasps); 19 J Forrester, 20 P Richards (both Gloucester); 21 O Barkley (Bath); 22 T Varndell (Leicester).


15 S Tagicakibau (Taranaki)

14 L Fa'atau (Wellington)

13 E Seveali'i (Sale)

12 E Fuimaono-Sapolu (Ack Un)

11 Alesana Tuilagi (Leics)

10 T Vili (Kintetsu)

9 S So'oialo (Harlequins)

1 J Va'a (Wellington)

2 M Schwalger (Wellington)

3 C Johnston (Taranaki)

4 D Leo (Queensland)

5 F Taele-Pavihi (Otago)

6 L Lafaialai'i (Bayonne)

7 D Farani (Coventry)

8 S Sititi (Borders, capt)

Replacements: 16 L Tafunai (Vaili); 17 K Lealamanua (Biarritz); 18 P Tupa'i (Bay of Plenty); 19 J Fa'amatuainu (Auckland); 20 G Cowley (Bay of Plenty); 21 Anitele'a Tuilagi (Leicester); 22 L Lui (Moata'a)

Referee: M Lawrence (SA)

Kick-off: 2.30 (TV: Sky Sports 2)