Robinson tears up team sheet to rebuild England's reputation

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The Independent Online

Baron did not give Robinson the dreaded vote of confidence - he is not the chairman, after all. He did, however, make it very clear that England's recent catastrophes in Edinburgh 18 days ago (a serious blow to their Six Nations ambitions) and in Paris on Sunday (a desperate blow to their chances of retaining the Webb Ellis Trophy in 18 months' time) will not be permitted to continue without a consequence or three.

"Everyone is subject to an annual review, from myself down," said Baron, "and people at the RFU are expected to meet their performance targets. The way to move forward in these circumstances is to stick to the established process and make analytical, logical, businesslike decisions. This is what we'll do, with a view to reporting to the management board at next month's meeting. Can we afford three defeats on the bounce? Two is enough.

"In the short term, failure does not affect our commercial programme. In the long term, it does. You can't underperform continually and expect loyal supporters to keep spending their money."

If Baron was not trying to sound ruthless in his pursuit of an immediate upturn in the fortunes of the national team, he could have fooled his audience. Robinson, contracted to the end of next year's World Cup, is in no immediate danger, and quite rightly so; when all is said and done, England are sitting more prettily in this season's Six Nations table than they were at a similar point last year. But the game with Ireland under these circumstances is far more important to the coach and his back-room staff than it would have been had England been playing for the title.

Robinson understands this, and has made a raft of changes as a result - eight, including one positional switch. This is the most comprehensive surgery performed on a red-rose team during the course of a championship since Martin Green and Mike Weston ripped up the teamsheet following the 33-6 defeat in Scotland a decade ago. Not since 1975, when Fran Cotton's side suffered the mother and father of a beating in Cardiff have more players been ditched for a tournament match.

Strangely, given the potency of the English scrummaging against the Tricolores last weekend, three of the changes have been imposed on the tight-forward unit. Andrew Sheridan has been recalled at loose-head prop, with Matt Stevens switching back to the tight-head side ahead of Julian White.

At lock, the long-serving Simon Shaw has been given the nod over Danny Grewcock as the coaches search for an upturn in mobility and footballing prowess. These are the extent of the tinkerings to the forward pack, for the much-criticised back row has been retained en bloc.

Outside the scrum, the carnage is considerable. Matt Dawson has been dropped to the bench - Harry Ellis of Leicester returns at half-back in the latest performance of the union game's most familiar version of the hokey-cokey - while Andy Goode, who finished the match with France, stays at outside-half in place of the injured Charlie Hodgson, who was not available for selection. Stuart Abbott, the sidestepping centre from Wasps, takes over the No 12 shirt from Mike Tindall, whose days playing out of position must surely be at an end, while Tom Voyce takes over the full-back role from Josh Lewsey, who is both exhausted and out of form after a relentless run of high-level rugby.

"Had we won in France, we'd have kept the same side," Robinson said. "But we lost the game and we're out of the competition, so it's right to reward some of the people in the squad who have been performing well - to give them the opportunity to show the best of themselves on home soil at Twickenham. Will we cope with this number of changes in the short time available to us? Yes, I think we will, particularly as most of these new players have been involved in this tournament for 15 or 20 minutes at a time off the bench.

"Anyway, the squad is hurting after what happened in Paris. People are desperate to get out there and prove to everyone that the France game was a bad day at the office and nothing more."

They were defiant words, and heartfelt ones too. Robinson finds it difficult to conceal his feelings at the best of times - there is nothing of the actor in him, nothing of the chameleon - and when pushed on the après-Paris mood, he opened up with his customary honesty, describing players and coaches alike as "distraught".

But there was not even a hint of a white flag about his performance in front of an audience that included Baron, his employer and ultimate judge. As far as the former Bath flanker is concerned, his long-term planning for next year's global jamboree is largely, if not wholly, in place.

"Whenever things go wrong, the first thing I do is look at myself in the mirror rather than at other people," he said. "I know everyone associated with this squad does the same - players, coaches and management. Whatever the results, I believe we have quality people working on this project, which is why defeats such as the one Paris are such a disappointment. I didn't expect that on Sunday.

"What I do expect is the flak to start flying when something like that happens. It's human nature, isn't it? But if you ask what effect it has on me, I can only say that it strengthens my resolve."

There was no direct response, either from Robinson or Baron, to the suggestion of the RFU chairman, Martyn Thomas, that a team manager might soon be appointed to take some of the load from the coach's shoulders. "I'm not the chairman, am I?" snapped Robinson, when pressed. "I cannot comment on something I know nothing about," Baron said.

Both their thoughts were miles away from the minutiae of the managerial arrangements. The real issues are both more immediate and more serious.

Teams for Twickenham


15 T Voyce (Wasps)

14 M Cueto (Sale)

13 J Noon (Newcastle)

12 S Abbott (Wasps)

11 B Cohen (Northampton)

10 A Goode (Leicester)

9 H Ellis (Leicester)

1 A Sheridan (Sale)

2 L Mears (Bath)

3 M Stevens (Bath)

4 S Borthwick (Bath)

5 S Shaw (Wasps)

6 J Worsley (Wasps)

7 L Moody (Leicester)

8 M Corry (Leicester, capt)

Replacements: S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), D Grewcock (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps), M Dawson (Wasps), D Walder (Newcastle), M Tindall (Gloucester).


15 G Murphy (Leicester)

14 S Horgan (Leinster)

13 B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt)

12 G D'Arcy (Leinster)

11 A Trimble (Ulster)

10 R O'Gara (Munster)

9 P Stringer (Munster)

1 M Horan (Munster)

2 J Flannery (Munster)

3 J Hayes (Munster)

4 M O'Kelly (Leinster)

5 P O'Connell (Munster)

6 S Easterby (Llanelli)

7 D Wallace (Munster)

8 D Leamy (Munster)

Replacements: R Best (Ulster), S Best (Ulster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), J O'Connor (Wasps), E Reddan (Wasps), D Humphreys (Ulster), G Dempsey (Leinster).