Robinson torments pointless Canadians

England 70 - Canada 0
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The Independent Online

For what it's worth, England, with a new head coach in Andy Robinson and a new captain in Jason Robinson, overpowered Canada by five goals and seven tries to nil. What, exactly, is the point of such a one-sided exercise?

For what it's worth, England, with a new head coach in Andy Robinson and a new captain in Jason Robinson, overpowered Canada by five goals and seven tries to nil. What, exactly, is the point of such a one-sided exercise?

The Rugby Football Union cannot fool all of the people all of the time, and yesterday only 41,784 people bothered to travel to Twickenham. The law of diminishing returns applies even when the scoreboard is in almost perpetual motion.

A sponsor had offered Canada a $100,000 bonus for a win here, but they could have added as many noughts as they liked, safe in the knowledge that foregone conclusions are alive and well. Everybody knew the Maple Leaf was heading for a fall this autumn. Last June, England A put 48 points on the Canadians in Calgary, which was not a huge surprise, but then last week Canada conceded six tries and 51 points to Italy, who yesterday conceded 59 to New Zealand.

However, the most astonishing and depressing aspect is that Canada did not field their most experienced professionals because they didn't want to push their luck with the clubs. The thinking is that repeated requests would irritate the players' employers and prejudice future occasions when Canada want to be at optimum strength, presumably for World Cup qualifiers.

"England honoured us by picking a strong side and we had to repay them by giving them a game," Kevin Tkachuk, the captain of Canada had said. Tkachuk is a professional with Glasgow and has a masters degree in history from Oxford University. History has not been kind to the Canadians, who managed to beat England in 1993. When the game became professional two years later it was no longer a contest. By and large the emerging countries have ceased to emerge against the leading nations.

It was a lovely day for a massacre and England, who said they would employ a policy of zero tolerance however weak the opposition, used the occasion to stimulate the taste buds, not only of the patrons of a half-empty stadium but, more importantly, some of the players who have been given a chance to impress Andy Robinson before the sterner Tests against South Africa and Australia.

Charlie Hodgson, filling the boots of the injured Jonny Wilkinson, showed his footballing skills, in particular with a solo try and a cross-kick for Josh Lewsey that was so perfect even Jonny - a spectator today - could not have improved upon it. The depart-ment in which Hodgson was kicking himself was his below- par goal-kicking. At half-time it was 32-0, Hodgson converting one of the six tries.

The man with the unenviable task of marking Lewsey was David Moonlight from the University of Victoria. As the ball from Hodgson hung in the air it was ill met by Moonlight, who was in no position to present a challenge having wandered infield. But then, let's face it, every Canadian had his work cut out against such overwhelming odds.

The encouraging feature for England is that their three-quarter line, criticised by Robinson for being too narrow and structured since the World Cup, scored seven tries from the back three, with Jason Robinson getting a hat-trick and Lewsey and Mark Cueto two apiece.

It took England eight minutes to fracture the Canadian defence, Hodgson's midfield break creating a try for Robinson. The captain had time to look around, decided against delivering a pass to his left and chose to go it alone. It was that comfortable. Even Andy might have scored it.

Henry Paul, the enigmatic centre from Gloucester, began to repay the faith shown in him by the England coaches with some very smart work. It was his long pass that created Lewsey's first try, and he followed it up with a clever break, his well-timed pass laying on a try for his co-centre, Mike Tindall.

Perhaps the pick of England's 12 tries was Cueto's first in the 32nd minute, when he capitalised on the sharpest passing of the afternoon, first from Hodgson and then Robinson. Nevertheless, Paul wasn't finished, and after Hodgson had been replaced by Will Greenwood 16 minutes into the second half, the former rugby league star put in a beautifully judged little grub kick behind the Canadian line and Greenwood marked his appearance by helping himself to a try.

Until Lewis Moody was the beneficiary of a driving maul in the last quarter, every try had been scored by a back.

The cliché is that England can only beat what is put in front of them, but Test matches worthy of the name are not won by 12 tries to nil and the question remains - how valid an exercise was this for England; or, for that matter, Canada?

Yesterday, England announ-ced the arrival of more than 33,000 new players to union 12 months after winning the World Cup in Australia. It represents a 16 per cent growth across all age groups, taking the total number of players in club rugby to more than 230,000. An additional 8,000 adults have taken up the sport, with 9,000 more in the under-12 to under-18 sector. The biggest increase, with an additional 15,000 players, is in the under-seven to under-11 range. Bringing the Webb Ellis Cup home has also produced an influx of new coaches and referees. "The RFU have shown themselves to be at the forefront of community participation," Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, said.

"Instead of just basking in the glory of winning the World Cup they have put in place plans to engage people in rugby, and for this they should be applauded."

So everything in the garden is rosy. As for Canada, they wage a continual battle against a harsh climate, immense geographical size, a relatively low population and compe-tition from gridiron, ice hockey, basketball and soccer.

Can the balance be redressed? Perhaps England should play Canada at ice hockey.