Sweet scent of success

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The Independent Online
This is the best England side that most of us have seen. The pack can stand comparison with Avril Malan's South Africans and Brian Lochore's New Zealanders of 30 years ago. There is not a weak link in the backs. A few days ago I should have said that it lay in the defensive capacities and the occasional loss of concentration of the Underwood brothers. After Saturday it was the French captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, who had cause to reproach himself.

It would be unfair to say that Saint-Andre exactly let in Tony Underwood for his two tries. But he should undoubtedly have managed to ground the ball to prevent him from scoring his first try. Even touching it with one finger when it is a couple of feet off the ground is enough to satisfy modern interpretations of the law.

He would almost certainly have done so if he had gone for it in a straightforward manner instead of trying to obstruct Underwood's path. The English wing then retaliated by grabbing the Frenchman's jersey. This was clearly an offence, as Saint-Andre complained by gestures immediately afterwards. But his own offence had preceded Underwood's. In the circumstances, a try for England was a fair result.

Just as modern referees, though unbelievably strict about some matters, are lax in their interpretation of "downward pressure," so they are generous in their view of what constitutes a forward pass.

The substitute, Sebastien Viars, was filling in at full-back but scored the best try of the Five Nations' Championship as a wing (a position in which he had previously represented France). The French movement started with a forward pass, just as the English movement which led to Underwood's second try ended with one.

Does it matter? Perhaps not. But we should be clear in our minds that - probably to encourage continuity and a bit of spectacle when there is a sporting chance of it - modern referees are claiming that bosses were "lateral" when they were manifestly slightly forward.

Both Tony Underwood and Rob Andrew wrote afterwards that the pack changed their mode of play in the course of the match. Underwood claimed that they altered their emphasis from rucking to mauling, though I had not noticed myself that they were doing a great deal of rucking in the first place. Andrew asserted that the forwards brought themselves closer to their backs and to the middle of the field.

Whatever the analysis, they were formidable, not only the back row (where Tim Rodber turned in yet another World XV performance), but the whole front five, with Victor Ubogu having a particularly good game.

The temptation will be for Wales to match Jack Rowell's philosophy as best they can and play Stuart Davies, Phil Davies and Emyr Lewis in the back row. I hope they do not do this. Laurent Cabannes, a genuine No 7, was by no means squeezed out of Saturday's match. His interception, which almost came off in the first few minutes, caused a few missed English heart-beats, while his was the crucial pass which brought about Viars's try.

I would go for Lyn Jones, who did manage to reach the substitutes' bench in the Paris match. Phil Davies must play because he remains an inspirational forward, in this sense the nearest Wales have to Dean Richards. My back row would be Lewis, Phil Daviesand Jones.

But in sport, as in no other activity known to mankind, except warfare, nothing succeeds like success. A decade or more ago, Clive Lloyd and Clyde Walcott decided to base the West Indian attack on four fast bowlers. Every country imitated them with greater or lesser degrees of success, until Shane Warne came on the scene to demonstrate the value of old-fashioned leg spin.

Likewise, England have gone for three No 8s in the back row. In time, this will change. There will be specialist No 6s and specialist No 7s. But they will be the same size as No 8s. Then a new No 7 will appear on the scene, built on the old lines.

He will astonish everybody, and the orthodoxy will be jettisoned - as it has been with leg-spin bowlers.