Yorkshire's finest enjoy an afternoon of pure luxury

Autumn internationals: England backs benefit from rugby league's influence
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Popular Front of Yorkshire's takeover of the England dressing room is in full swing. The Holy not-far-from Wakefield Trinity of skipper Jason Robinson, fly-half Charlie Hodgson and vice-captain Mike Tindall annexed command of the backline against the outclassed Canadians. Only the introduction of Henry Paul, a son of New Zealand, could spoil the game plan of entertaining Twickenham with a rerun of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

The Popular Front of Yorkshire's takeover of the England dressing room is in full swing. The Holy not-far-from Wakefield Trinity of skipper Jason Robinson, fly-half Charlie Hodgson and vice-captain Mike Tindall annexed command of the backline against the outclassed Canadians. Only the introduction of Henry Paul, a son of New Zealand, could spoil the game plan of entertaining Twickenham with a rerun of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

Not that they would have been short of material in what had hitherto been a quite miserable year for the world champions. "Ah see our captain's injured then," Tindall, born in Otley, might have said. "That's two captains gone - Jonny and Johno," piped up Hodgson of Halifax.

"Luxury," chipped in Robinson from Leeds. "It's three since t'World Cup win - don't forget that fellow Dally ... Dilly ... Lawrence."

"Right," said Paul in his best flattened vowels. "We've lost three captains, a coach, dropped our finest centre and our leading try-scorer and said goodbye to our most-capped prop and openside flanker. And you try and tell the press we might have an excuse for losing to South Africa next week - and they won't believe you."

Having narrowly failed to convince Paul that the new national anthem is On Ilkley Moor Baht 'at, Robinson and the PFY set about winning over a Twickers crowd bereft of their beloved Wilkinson as fly-half and captain. A battery of tries was the minimum requirement, and Robinson had a hat-trick before his withdrawal cut short his captaincy debut.

The issue of leadership never really cropped up. About the only thing Robinson needed to query with the referee was the scale of England's lead when the scoreboards briefly packed up.

Geography is one thing, but what about history? Demoted to the bench was Will Greenwood, whose father Dick once led England. From families steeped in rugby union we have come to the conversion of Paul and Robinson from rugby league.

England's lamentable challenge for the 1999 World Cup is ever more a distant memory but it was then that Clive Woodward said four rugby league targets were in his sights - Robinson, Paul, Andy Farrell and Gary Connolly. Farrell gave a polite but firm "no" and has played out his career as an utterly respected captain of Wigan and Great Britain. In common with Robinson and Paul (at Bath), Connolly had an initial try-out (at Harlequins) in the early days of union's open era but stayed put.

The problems for the cross-coders were simple in nature but difficult to solve. Two extra opponents, for one thing. For another, what the hell are all these extra Laws (with a capital L) at the tackle, ruck, maul and line-out? Robinson never hid from the anomalies, but his position has allowed a certain amount of getting-away-with it. The advice he was given by his former Sale coach Steve Diamond - "keep running until you get held, then put the ball between your legs and hope" - holds good.

Robinson scored one of the great Lions tries in the first Test in Australia in 2001, and did the necessary again when it mattered in last year's World Cup final. He has been a dazzling success with the wider vision and deeper running lines accorded to the back three.

Paul is closer to the heat of the forwards' furnace, and yesterday the former Bradford Bull charged asunder the red-cloaked Canadians competently enough. But, assuming he keeps his place ahead of Greenwood, he will face the biggest test of his three-year stay in union against the likes of Schalk Burger, De Wet Barry and Marius Joubert of the Springboks.

As an inside centre or, after Hodgson's substitution, the injured Wilkinson's latest stand-in at stand-off, Paul needs more to his game than an ability to beat a man one-on-one. In the broken field of Sevens, or the final quarter against third-rate opposition, there are few more devastating players. Still, the nuances of how best to link between pack and backs - the stock of knowledge accumulated by Wilkinson and Hodgson - are not yet fully learned.

Hodgson passed and ran fluently, and cross-kicked à la Wilko for a try by Lewsey, but kicked dreadfully at goal. Otherwise, he could have done little more to add to the favourable impression he made by progressing nicely through England's summer engagements in Dunedin, Auckland and Brisbane.

Wilkinson - absent with a bruised arm after recovering from his long-term nerve problem - was cheered when his face appeared on the big screen. Tucked into his tracksuit and beanie hat, the captain-in-waiting spent the week with England rather than offer his club Newcastle his usual help at defensive training sessions in preparation for today's Premiership match.

The Falcons' opponents? Leeds. Eh up, good weekend for them Tykes.

Robinson: 'I'd probably give that an eight out of 10'

I'd probably give that an eight out of 10. It was a really good start with some improvements to make. Some of the execution just before half-time and after was very, very good, and Charlie Hodgson really took a grip of the game.

England's new head coach Andy Robinson reflects on a job well done

To score 70 points and to concede none was certainly our target and we are happy with the win and we now need to move on. We know we have some tough games coming up but it was a job well done. It's great to be captain, to score three and for the team to play like that is great.

England's new captain Jason Robinson keeps his assessment simple

We know we will have to step up next week. South Africa will be looking to hit back on the rebound, knowing they haven't beaten us for a number of years. It will be a tough, physical game.

Andy Robinson looks ahead to next week's Springbok Test

I could not have asked for a better start, to make my debut with so many of the Sale boys as well as score two tries.

Mark Cueto, who was joined on the field by his fellow Sharks Robinson, Hodgson, Andy Titterrell and Andy Sheridan, on his first Test start

The radar was off. I'll come back stronger next week. It's important to get the first one over. The more you miss the more frustrated you get and the harder it is.

Hodgson explains his kicking problems

Comments