Vickery admits England are back to square one
Jonny Wilkinson, Andy Farrell, Jason Robinson... now that the big names are queueing up to play rather than queueing for treatment, the red-rose faithful are talking about England hanging on to the World Cup they won in 2003, rather than handing it back this autumn with a mumbled apology for having ideas above their station.
Such talk does not impress Phil Vickery, the new captain, who yesterday sought to place tomorrow's Calcutta Cup match with Scotland in its proper perspective. "People go on about us restoring our reputation, but we don't have a reputation any more," the yeoman prop from Cornwall said.
"This game is about putting some building blocks in place, nothing more. What did we get out of the four international matches we played last November? Not a lot, frankly. We have to get a good deal more out of these Six Nations games if we're going to be in any shape for the big thing coming up at the end of the year.
"I want to see some blood and guts from us - if you're picked to play for your country, I expect people to make the most of it. But we need more than that. We need to start putting some passages of play together, and quickly. We don't have a great deal of time available to us."
Vickery will win his 50th cap tomorrow, as will Mike Tindall, the Gloucester centre, and Martin Corry, the Leicester No 8 and former national captain. As a result of this statistical coincidence, there are decisions to be made straight away. Is Vickery sufficiently fleet of foot to beat the other two out of the tunnel? "We'll play 'paper, scissors, stone' to decide who goes out first," he replied.
He is not a complete stranger to the captaincy, having led an experimental England team to a famous victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2002 - a win subsequently identified by Sir Clive Woodward, no less, as a significant staging post on the road to the Webb Ellis Trophy - and also led them in the 100-point slaughter of Uruguay during the pool stage of the 2003 tournament. This is different, though.
"A Six Nations match brings its own pressure and the expectation on us is greater than usual," Vickery admitted. "How will I feel in the dressing room before kick-off? I'll be pretty emotional, I expect. Professionalism has changed attitudes to a certain degree, but as far as I'm concerned, money is not the driving force. I'd be a foolish person if I allowed that to become my motivation.
"You don't play tight-head prop without having the necessary will and desire. I'm proud to play for my country, I want to be a part of a winning side and to be picked as captain... well, it's the greatest honour anyone could have given me."
For the moment, Vickery's starting combination remains intact. Iain Balshaw, the Gloucester full-back, is struggling with a groin problem and faces a further assessment today. The bench has changed, however. Lewis Moody, the replacement flanker, did not pass muster yesterday after a shoulder injury in training and has given way to the uncapped Wasps open-side specialist Tom Rees.
"I feel pretty bad for Lewis; it's not the way I would want to be picked in an ideal world," said Rees, whose own shoulder problems prevented his debut during the autumn Tests. "But if I get my chance, I have to try to take it."
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