Sighs of relief sweep England

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The Independent Online

When the Premiership trophy had been collected and the moment came for Lawrence Dallaglio to peel off his sweat-sodden jersey and toss it in the corner of the dressing room, he might have reflected that he will not be needing that garment again for a while. Though a Wasp through and through since his teens, Dallaglio will have only England on his mind from here on in to the World Cup, half a world and half a year away.

The plane tickets for the preparatory tour to Australia and New Zealand are ready for tomorrow's flight from Heathrow, and Dallaglio was one of a dozen of yesterday's players with their names on them.

The clubs' overlords wanted a big finish to the nine-month long season, and patted themselves on the back for attracting 44,000 spectators to the home of the national side. Clive Woodward, the England coach, merely winced with every thumping challenge.

The good news for Woodward began early - Josh Lewsey's slashing try that set the tone for a dominant Wasps performance. Lewsey decided a couple of years ago that he was better off serving his country as a professional sportsman than as an officer in the Royal Artillery, and the battlefield's loss has been the rugby field's gain.

On the wing for Wasps, or at full-back for England, Lew-sey is becoming adept at bark-ing the orders at HQ. His two first-half run-ins on this occasion sit nicely alongside a pair for Wasps in two cup finals, and three for England here in this season's Six Nations Championship. "I'm absolutely shattered," he said, "but I feel like a champion."

Even so, the danger that one England man might grievously clock another was never far away. Early in the second half, Dallaglio, for the second weekend running, was raging at a potential England team-mate. Last week, it was Bath's Danny Grewcock, whose fists connected with Dallaglio's head during the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final.

Yesterday, Dallaglio dived in to spit some more invective at Andy Gomarsall, Gloucester's candidate for the national No 9 shirt, who put the boot into Alex King when the latter refused to give up the ball. The pair are friends from when Gomarsall was at Wasps, and they had been exchanging text messages during the week. The fingers and thumbs must have been working overtime last night.

Otherwise - and apart from Gloucester's prop Trevor Woodman, who failed to start due to an ankle injury - the country's finest came off largely unscathed, apart from the obvious blows to Gloucester's psyche.

The first tears shed in front of the transported Shed belonged to a Frenchman, Ludovic Mercier, who with his compatriot Olivier Azam, is off home, also with the World Cup as a short-term goal. A couple of Samoans, Junior Paramore in the Cherry-and-White back row and Trevor Leota for Wasps, were their usual physical selves, but as a whole the contest was a non-starter.

Shoulder to shoulder with Lewsey, man-of-the-match King advanced his England claims at fly-half, and Stuart Abbott, the lad from Western Province, looked ready to Springbok his ideas up for his adopted land at centre.

The groundwork put in by Wasps on Abbott, when they sent Fraser Waters to South Africa to ask around about their transfer target, has thus been beneficial to Woodward. Club helping country; a jolly enough footnote to a season finally at its end. But when Dallaglio next sees his beloved Wasps, the new champions will be halfway through the next campaign.

Something in this crazy set-up always has to give.

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