Despite the fact that they gave a second-half impression of decapitated poultry in the defeat by Wales, England are not short of talking heads. Indeed, according to Andy Gomarsall, the Red Rose chat show reached such a peak at Twickenham it was one of the reasons why England took their eye off the ball.
"It all came down to a mad six minutes," Gomarsall said. "We could see what was happening but we couldn't do anything about it. We all knew what was going wrong, and in that small period of time the game was gone. It was lost in an instant. There's only so much that the decision-makers can do."
After the captain Phil Vickery had left the field, it was down to Gomarsall, his partner Jonny Wilkinson and the lock Steve Borthwick to call the shots. As England began to unravel, losing a 19-6 lead, Borthwick was exasperated as other players gave voice to their frustrations.
"We were flitting around," Gomarsall said, "and a number of players were chopsing to the referee. When they're talking, you know they're not doing their jobs. Steve made the valid point that we were not working hard enough. Our work-rate dropped and we needed to knuckle down. Instead there were unforced errors from individuals and we got punished. We also lost our defensive leaders [Lewis Moody and Mike Tindall to injury]. It's not an excuse. That's life.
"The crazy thing is we looked like the team playing catch-up, we were trying to force things but we were in front. We were frustrated that we hadn't scored more points and as a result were still playing with ambition. You have to give Wales credit. They were very clever in nullifying our forward power. They had nothing to lose. Gavin Henson admitted to me afterwards that Wales played well for just 10 minutes. For us, this was a blip."
Gomarsall acknowledged that as blips go, it was "utterly shocking". For today's encounter with Italy in Rome, coach Brian Ashton made a number of changes, forced on him by a catalogue of injuries – in the pack, only the second row has escaped the fallout, although he announced yesterday that Vickery should be fit after recovering from a calf injury. Defeat for the World Cup finalists in the Eternal City is unthinkable, but then so it was at Twickenham last week.
"There are some angry people in this squad, and quite right too," Ashton said. "They ought to be angry. The rugby we played after the interval wasn't the brightest. In fact watching the tape of it was like watching a cartoon. It's not something you want to see over and over again because it doesn't get any better. But we've dealt with it and we're confident it won't happen again. We played our best rugby for a long time in the first half and I don't want people playing by numbers because of what happened in the second."
Iain Balshaw, despite conceding the match-winning try through a charged-down kick, is still at full-back and Gomarsall and Wilkinson are still the preferred half-backs, even though they colluded in a cartoon moment with a series of embarrassing passes that ended with Lee Byrne crossing their line.
"There's no reason why I couldn't have put my foot on the ball and taken control of the situation," Gomarsall said. "Instead I passed to Jonny and he threw out a high ball. Nine times out of 10 he'd have kicked it. Yes, it looked like panic."
Wilkinson, who had a particularly poor second half, managed to escape a citing after laying out Jonathan Thomas with a short-arm tackle. Thomas was a witness for the defence, des-cribing Wilkinson's challenge (you couldn't call it a tackle) as fair, though the flanker wouldn't have known a thing about it.
"Questioning Jonny's performance has become the nature of the game nowadays," Gomarsall said. "I had dinner with him the other night and any criticism is like water off a duck's back. He's now like the old guy in the team, and you begin to wonder where the time's gone."
The old boy himself said he did not have sleepless nights about Red Rose selection. "These days I'm not anxious about it because I'm doing the best I can," Wilkinson said. "I don't want to be here if I'm not the right person. I haven't got the time to worry about something outside my control."
Italy: D Bortolussi (Montpellier); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), E Galon (Overmach Parma); A Masi (Biarritz), P Travagli (Overmach Parma); A Lo Cicero (Racing-Metro), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), S Dellape (Biarritz), C A Del Fava (Ulster), J Sole (Viadana), Ma Bergamasco (Stade Français), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt). Replacements: C Festuccia (Racing-Metro), S Perugini (Toulouse), C Nieto (Gloucester), A Zanni (Calvisano), S Picone (Treviso), A Marcato (Treviso), A Sgarbi (Treviso).
England: I Balshaw (Gloucester): P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), J Haskell (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter (Harlequins). Replacements: L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester), R Wigglesworth (Sale), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Tait (Newcastle).Reuse content