Fifty caps into an international career that appears to have afforded him as much professional fulfilment as that daft series of sherry adverts gave Orson Welles, the England flanker Joe Worsley, omitted from the starting line-up for the opening Cook Cup Test against Australia, made his feelings known yesterday ahead of selection for the second and concluding match. Seldom in recent memory has a player given voice to his frustration in so forthright a manner. Hell, not even Austin Healey managed it.
"I was bitterly disappointed to be dropped, and bitterly disappointed at the result," said the Londoner, who played a little over 20 minutes off the bench in Sydney on Sunday. "How do I deal with it? Big disappointments give you a kick up the arse, and as I'm 29 this week, I need as many kicks up the arse as I can get. I can't be negative about it in the team environment - I hate players who respond to getting dropped by being snide, by making bad comments about people in the squad. It's not about looking after No 1. When we returned to the hotel on Sunday, I had a glass of champagne with Mike Catt to celebrate my 50th cap, and another to toast our membership of the Most Dropped Club. But I'm angry, really angry. I suppose it shows I still care."
Was he given an explanation when Andy Robinson, the head coach, plumped for Magnus Lund of Sale on the blind-side flank - a debutant to boot? "I don't need all that airy-fairy crap," Worsley responded. "It's black and white as far as I'm concerned. If they've picked the other bloke, it's because they think he's better than me. I'm not interested in explanations. I'd rather people shoot from the hip."
Worsley has never been an on-message sort: Sir Clive Woodward, who rarely saw eye to eye with the Wasps back-rower during his long stint as national coach, would confirm as much, having had his ears singed during the course of the last Six Nations Championship. But this was pointed stuff, even by his standards. Quite how Robinson and his new coaching team will react is anyone's guess.
There was some solace for Worsley yesterday when Brian Ashton, the England attack coach, bracketed him with the Sale lock Chris Jones and the Leicester hooker George Chuter as a player who made something of his belated opportunity against the Wallabies at the weekend. All three were introduced at the end of the third quarter, and all three caught the eye by making ground against a particularly niggardly Australian defence. Yet while Worsley is by some distance the most experienced of the trio, Jones is the most obvious promotion candidate for this final game of the campaign. The Wasp's chances rather depend on the state of Lund's dodgy hamstring.
Robinson and his coaches spent the morning after the night before viewing a tape of the game, which the Wallabies won 34-3 without playing especially well. Their conclusions? Many and varied. Ashton was encouraged by England's first half - "We did things that tested the Wallaby defence, then lacked composure when we got in behind them," he said - but found little to recommend their efforts after the interval. "The Australians changed their defensive system slightly and we didn't react," he said. "We really must start understanding things that are happening in front of us."
Yet his overall judgement had a positive air about it. "We have players with the pace to play some football from every area of the pitch, provided the possession they have is good enough and quick enough," he said, referring to the likes of Iain Balshaw, Tom Varndell and Mathew Tait. "We can't play international rugby with 15 dancers, so we'll have to look very carefully at the balance of our side. But when a youngster like Varndell, playing his first major Test, stands up a wing as outstanding as Lote Tuqiri, you know you have something with which to work. A little green light will have switched on his head and he'll have thought, 'Blimey, I really do belong on this stage'."
Was there sufficient energy amongst the players at the end of a long season to raise themselves a notch on Saturday? "We'll have to make the best of what we have left, because I expect the Wallabies to improve on their performance," Ashton replied. "What we mustn't do is lose sight of the good things we did in Sydney."Reuse content