Something to whisper about - Balshaw's back

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The Independent Online

Ask the Celts and they will tell you how typical of the English it would be to make such a hollow victory sound like a beating drum. And they will laugh out loud if their beloved cousins dare announce that all the smoke rising in London's wild South West yesterday signalled the re-emergence of the cavalry otherwise known as Iain Balshaw - the same Iain Balshaw, that is, who was their Anointed One not a hamster's lifetime ago, but who became the Forgotten One quicker than you can say Jason Robinson.

But while such cynicism may in some part be justified, it was difficult not to let the mind wander into the "what-ifs", even when Balshaw produced that quite priceless piece of last-minute fat-fisted buffoonery that will haunt him forever more.

What if the England hierarchy had stayed faithful to the incisive talents of their Blackburn rover and allowed his unique creativity to take root and brighten up what has been, and remains, a rather dull England back line?

True, there were vast servings of this Italian performance that were as flat as a thin-crust down the back of Pavarotti's sofa, but the way Balshaw sliced them into quarters with a few choice toppings of the hot stuff in the opening half, suggested that this was a man on a scooter with a few accounts to settle as he started his first international in more than a year.

One he must obviously set right, as quickly as possible, is with his colleagues. He has been known to have a burst of the bolshies when everything is not going the Balshaw way, an attribute that has hardly endeared him to everyone in white shirts, and it was too tempting not to wonder whether his unanswered beseechings for the ball early on could simply be put down to the wrong option continually being taken.

Mark Cueto did it first in the 18th minute, when Balshaw was doing everything but sending text messages for the pass inside, and the 25-year-old would have been similarly aggrieved if Steve Thompson had not managed to ground it 20 minutes later, as the hooker went out of his way not to gift the full-back the touchdown that the overlap merited.

Of the two, Cueto's was the more ungracious snub, especially as it was Balshaw's quickstep, sidestep and goosestep inside and away from the Italian defence that had set him up for the opening try. This just minutes after another act in the Balshaw ballet when a few pirouettes and hops had shown the rest of England how powder-puffed Italy's midfield could be. Just give No 15 the ball, Twickenham screamed, and watch him go.

Alas, they had to watch him repeatedly slow as miscommunication with the rest of his back line led to him running up a series of blind alleys. Indeed, it wasn't until the last minute of the half that he got in on the action at last, when a sublime pass to Cueto, smothered by Italian hands, released the Sale wing for the second of his three tries.

Ah, now Balshaw and his buddies understood each other, and in the second half he was able to thrash away at the hay as England's sun finally started to shine. He plainly panicked on the hour-mark, however, when Danny Grewcock continued the move across the line with the try area calling - baffingly he threw a pass back inside to the startled lock - but 30 seconds later, he was in no mood for such profligacy when accepting Olly Barkley's invitation to run in what by now was so rightfully his.

Arms aloft, and although there was that last-minute bungle to tarnish what had been Balshaw's day, that was not about to ruin England's reacquaintance with the winning feeling. Hollow? Maybe. But worthless? For Balshaw, definitely not.