Robinson spies areas where the All Blacks can be brought to book

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Andy Robinson was something of a disappointment yesterday, not least to those suspicious members of the All Black hierarchy who accused England of spying on their preparations for this weekend's Test match at Twickenham. Instead of appearing dressed like George Smiley, complete with false eyebrows and a micro-camera concealed in his underpants, the red-rose coach was his usual open-faced, track-suited self. He was not much interested in whispered code words, either. His message came across loud and clear, and it was one of indignation.

"I can categorically state that we have not been involved in espionage," he said. "I totally refute the claims that have been made. Am I annoyed? Of course. Are they trying to wind me up? Yes, I think so. But this game is not going to be won and lost by the coaches arguing between themselves. It will be won on the pitch, as usual. Things have been said, and they're wrong. Let's leave it there and move on."

And move on he did, in the direction of what he considered to be some of the All Blacks' more questionable strategies. "They like to walk around the scrum; we want the scrum to be straight and square, and to be properly refereed," he said. "We want strong refereeing in the tackle area, too, because people are getting taken out off the ball. We're also interested in the way they use their blockers, the runners who operate in front of the ball and create holes for others. The New Zealanders try to bully their opponents, sometimes legally and sometimes illegally. They are very subtle in what they do, but there are certain things they get away with on a regular basis."

Sir Clive Woodward, not a great one for pre-match harmony, would have heartily approved. Woodward did not always win his verbal punch-ups ­ indeed, he had an unfortunate habit of losing to Eddie Jones of Australia ­ but he flatly refused to see discretion as the better part of valour. Robinson may be less quarrelsome by nature, but he is no more willing than his old boss to ignore an insult.

Even without the New Zealanders' mutterings about camouflaged cameramen hiding behind fences, the coach would have been more intense than usual. It is that kind of a game. In keeping faith with the combination that prevailed over the Wallabies last weekend ­ Charlie Hodgson, the increasingly influential outside-half from Sale, ran freely yesterday for the first time since suffering a minor groin injury trying to prevent the Australians' only try and he is expected to prove his fitness over the next 24 hours ­ he described this challenge as the most difficult since joining the England set-up more than five years ago.

"New Zealand score a lot of their tries from turnover possession, so this is about us taking control of our own game and minimising our error count," he said. "We have a quality defensive structure, but it depends on us making our one-on-one tackles ­ on being smart, putting our bodies on the line and knocking the All Blacks on the floor. In my opinion we have the power to put pressure on them, but we need urgency in our support work. We have to smash them and blast them in the contact area."

Do England have the physical wherewithal to do this for the best part of an hour and a half against a side so supremely conditioned that neither Wales nor Ireland could live with them for more than a few minutes?

"In my opinion, we do," Robinson replied, heartily encouraged by the way Andrew Sheridan and his fellow forwards asphyxiated the Wallabies. "But we're sitting here talking about it in a nice, cosy room. The All Blacks have been doing their talking on the pitch for two years now. We know we have to go toe to toe with them, but we'll only find out how well equipped we are to do it on Saturday afternoon."

The New Zealand centre Ma'a Nonu escaped further punishment last night after being cited for his second-half spear-tackle on Ireland's Gordon D'Arcy at Lansdowne Road on Saturday. The IRB judicial officer Judge Wyn Williams opted against taking additional action as Nonu did not drive D'Arcy into the ground.

* Wales have appealed to the International Rugby Board to take immediate action after Sale prevented Mark Taylor playing against South Africa in Cardiff on Saturday by demanding the centre be released. Wales have recalled the former Lions wing Dafydd James to replace Kevin Morgan, who has an ankle injury. The captain Gareth Thomas will partner Sonny Parker at centre. South Africa's captain John Smit will earn his 50th cap, and Meyer Bosman, 20, will make his Test debut at No 10 as a replacement for Andre Pretorius.

Test teams

ENGLAND (v New Zealand, Twickenham, Saturday 2.30)

15 J Lewsey (Wasps)

14 M Cueto (Sale)

13 J Noon (Newcastle)

12 M Tindall (Gloucester)

11 B Cohen (Northampton)

10 C Hodgson (Sale)

9 M Dawson (Wasps)

1 A Sheridan (Sale)

2 S Thompson (Northampton)

3 P Vickery (Gloucester)

4 D Grewcock (Bath)

5 S Borthwick (Bath)

6 P Sanderson (Worcester)

7 L Moody (Leicester)

8 M Corry (Leicester, capt)

Replacements: L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), L Deacon (Leicester), C Jones (Sale), H Ellis (Leicester), O Barkley (Bath), M van Gisbergen (Wasps).

WALES ( v South Africa, Cardiff, Saturday, 5.0)

15 L Byrne (Llanelli Scarlets)

14 D James (Llanelli Scarlets)

13 G Thomas (Toulouse, capt)

12 S Parker (Ospreys)

11 S Williams (Ospreys)

10 S Jones (Clermont Auvergne)

9 G Cooper (N-G Dragons)

1 D Jones (Ospreys)

2 R Thomas (Cardiff Blues)

3 C Horsman (Worcester)

4 R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues)

5 L Charteris (N-G Dragons)

6 C Charvis (Newcastle)

7 M Williams (Cardiff Blues)

8 M Owen (N-G Dragons)

Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (N-G Dragons), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Phillips (Cardiff Blues), C Sweeney (N-G Dragons), M Watkins (Llanelli Scarlets).


15 P Montgomery (Natal Sharks)

14 C Jantjes (Lions)

13 J Fourie (Lions)

12 J de Villiers (Western Province)

11 B Habana (Blue Bulls)

10 M Bosman (Cheetahs)

9 M Claassens (Cheetahs)

1 L Sephaka (Lions)

2 J Smit (Natal Sharks, capt)

3 CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs)

4 B Botha (Blue Bulls)

5 V Matfield (Blue Bulls)

6 S Burger (Western Province)

7 J Smith (Cheetahs)

8 J Cronje (Blue Bulls)

Replacements: H Shimange (WP), O du Randt (Cheetahs), A van den Berg (Natal Sharks), D Rossouw (Blue Bulls), B Conradie (WP), DW Barry (WP), B Russell (Natal Sharks).

FRANCE (v Tonga, Toulouse, Saturday 2.0)

15 J Laharrague (Perpignan)

14 A Rougerie (Clermont-Auvergne)

13 D Marty (Perpignan)

12 T Castaignède (Saracens)

11 V Clerc (Toulouse)

10 Y Delaigue (Castres)

9 D Yachvili (Biarritz)

1 O Milloud (Bourgoin)

2 R Ibañez (Wasps)

3 S Marconnet (Stade Français)

4 G Lamboley (Toulouse)

5 J Thion (Biarritz, capt)

6 J Bonnaire (Bourgoin)

7 Y Nyanga (Toulouse)

8 S Chabal (Sale)

Replacements: S Bruno (Sale), P de Villiers (Stade Français), L Nallet (Castres), R Martin (Stade Français), T Lièvremont (Biarritz), F Michalak (Toulouse), Y Jauzion (Toulouse).