Wyllie puts the heat on England again

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The Independent Online
A single annual dose of New Zealand medicine is more than enough to satisfy even the most masochistic rugby player but today, just a fortnight after suffering their biggest home defeat in 12 years at the hands of Sean Fitzpatrick's multi-talented band of Barbarians, England must attempt to cast yet another All Black devil from the high altar of Twickenham.

Talk about sending coals to Newcastle. Few Argentinian sides of recent years have needed a refresher course in aggression. The last time the Pumas played in England, six years ago, they left the distinct impression that they had been coached by Angelo Dundee but Jose Luis Imhoff's current tourists clearly believe they are in danger of going soft. Why else would Alex "Grizz" Wyllie, the roughest, toughest son of a gun ever to play for New Zealand, have been installed as technical director?

Wyllie, considered by the Pumas to be the best coach in the business, has made himself well known to British rugby folk down the years. He made one or two subtle pugilistic points to the Lions in the Battle of Canterbury way back in 1971, and as recently as three summers ago he was in charge of an Eastern Province side who gave violence a bad name in an X-rated shocker against England in Port Elizabeth. From stiff upper lip to fat lip in one easy lesson.

The Pumas have lost an entire world-class front row since giving England a roasting up front in Durban 18 months ago, but Wyllie believes the tourists' remodelled pack possess ample raw muscle to make life seriously uncomfortable for Jason Leonard, the new England captain, and his fellow forwards this afternoon.

"I think they stand up to the best packs around in terms of ball-winning," said Grizz as the Argentinians prepared for their final training run yesterday. "The important thing is that they retain what they win. One of the big mistakes in Puma rugby at the moment is turning over too much possession, which is a question of attitude as much as anything. I want to see this side maintain the hardness of which they are capable right to the last minute; we've seen it so often with Argentinian sides - they have ability but lose concentration very easily."

Leonard, who takes over the tiller from the injured Phil de Glanville, is the only home forward to have confronted the Pumas on more than one occasion. In fact, he has faced them four times and that rich experience leads him to believe that the England front five, so impressive in both of this season's previous outings, will face the stiffest of examinations early on.

Provided they look after themselves - and in Martin Johnson and Simon Shaw, England possess line-out jumpers of sufficient quality to neutralise the hardened Buenos Aires pairing of Pedro Sporleder and German Llanes - Leonard's men should be guaranteed a 20-point winning margin. But despite the fact that their outside half, Mike Catt, declared himself fully recovered from a chest infection yesterday, there remains a degree of uncertainty about a back division that has fallen foul of injury and illness this week.

For the second time in three games, England unveil a new face at full- back. Nick Beal has the pace and elusive style to fill the strike runner's role so important to Jack Rowell's wider game plan, but he is no Tim Stimpson in terms of defence. He will need every ounce of support he can get from his wings, Jon Sleightholme and Tony Underwood, if he is to steer clear of Puma man traps.

As for Underwood, today's match completes a difficult week of contrasting emotions. Called into the squad last weekend when Adedayo Adebayo was concussed he suffered the indignity of being overlooked in favour of Jeremy Guscott, a centre by instinct and breeding. Only when De Glanville cried off on Thursday was he flown back down from Newcastle and installed in the side.

It will be his first England appearance since that nightmarish collision with Jonah Lomu in Cape Town in last year's World Cup semi-final and, understandably, he wants to draw a line under the entire issue. "I can't stop people talking about the Lomu thing; it is undeniable that my last outing for England was that one against New Zealand and as with every other sport, you are only as good as your last game," he said yesterday. "But I feel as though I exorcised that particular ghost at the time - the day after the match, in fact - and the important thing now is to give people something else by which to remember me.

"I felt it was a bit of a slap in the face when they decided to play Jerry on the wing, but when all is said and done, he's a great player and is obviously worth a place in the side. But things have turned out in my favour over the last couple of days and it's up to me to make the most of it."

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