Phil Vickery, whose uncanny impersonation of the notoriously ruthless football full-back Ron "Chopper" Harris during England's spluttering victory over the United States in Lens did not amuse the Americans one little bit, was still wondering yesterday whether he would be banned from the world champions' next engagement – the meeting with the Springboks in Saint-Denis on Friday night. The tight-head prop and captain insisted that his blatant tripping of the centre Paul Emerick had been an accident, but the tournament disciplinarians may see it differently.
The citing commissioner, Steve Hinds of New Zealand, had 48 hours from the end of Saturday's game to make a decision regarding the incident, which was missed by the referee, Jonathan Kaplan of South Africa, despite being in the direct line of sight of the other 36,000 people present at Stade Félix-Bollaert. A suspension would stop Vickery meeting the Boks. England have a ready-made replacement in Matt Stevens, but it is a worrying time none the less.
Vickery did not seek to deny that he tripped Emerick in the 15th minute of the game. "The Americans had made a good break, we were backtracking and their centre stepped inside me. It was an instinctive reaction – there was no malice on my part. Happily, there was no damage caused. It was an unfortunate incident, nothing more. The game was played in a very good spirit."
At the time, the United States coach, Peter Thorburn, could be seen gesturing angrily from his position on the touchline. Afterwards, the American union's chief executive and president of rugby operations, Nigel Melville, a former England captain and scrum-half who took up his current position in January, was of a mind to raise the issue with the competition authorities. Emerick himself was more composed. "I have a bruise on my knee, but these things happen," he said. "If I hadn't been tripped, I'd like to think I'd have had a real go for the line. I'm not one to make a fuss, though."
In true Arsène Wenger fashion, few of the England party owned up to seeing anything amiss. But yesterday the forwards coach, John Wells, mounted a defence of Vickery. "The way I saw it, it was just a clumsy challenge made by a bloke who wanted to make a tackle," he said. "There was no intent there. He's not that type of player."
Wells was more exercised by the performance of his pack, who failed to establish the anticipated degree of control over opponents with a strong vein of old-fashioned amateurism running through them. "We're disappointed and a bit frustrated," he said. "That said, everyone has put up their hand and acknowledged that it wasn't good enough. We were half a pace off everything, including the breakdowns. When everyone is so big and so physical, it means you're going to get pushed off the ball every time."
And the line-outs? England were really poor in that area, losing four from five on their own throw in one particularly awkward spell in the second half. "When things went wrong there, we lost our composure," Wells said. "People allowed themselves to become rattled unnecessarily and it then took three or four goes to get it right."
England plan to make a public statement on the subject of Jonny Wilkinson and his dodgy right ankle tomorrow. The Newcastle outside-half had been on crutches the day before the meeting with the States, but when he attended the game he was standing on his own two feet.Reuse content