Mike Tindall, the England vice-captain and resident midfield powerhouse, was laid low by a stomach bug yesterday - an unwelcome development that prompted Andy Robinson, the head coach, to summon Jamie Noon from Newcastle as cover for tomorrow's Cook Cup contest with Australia at Twickenham. Meanwhile, the Wallabies continued to bug the world champions, damning them with faint praise at every turn and openly discussing areas of perceived weakness in the side that fairly marmalised South Africa only six days ago.
England's new inside-back combination of Charlie Hodgson and Henry Paul were the targets this time. "Hodgson is very different defensively to Jonny Wilkinson," said Eddie Jones, the visiting coach, of the outside-half from Sale. "He is always the first receiver and plays much flatter to the line. I think this makes England a more potent side, but it has its inherent risks. If you are not getting fast ball, a defence can deny you some time and space. It will be interesting to see how he adapts if we can slow down the England ball and put some pressure on him. Will he change his game at all?"
And Paul? "He still hasn't played a high-quality Test match under pressure, where the ball you are getting is a little bit more neutralised than it was against the Springboks last Saturday. Pressure is what we're aiming at. England are a very good defensive side, but they definitely have some frailties. If we get good ball, I hope we'll be able to expose them." Don't mince your words, Eddie. Say what you think.
To suggest that Jones employs unusual tactics in the build-up to a major Test barely does him justice. The French have been known to dabble in public criticism of opponents before the event, but their more interesting sentiments frequently turn out to be exaggerated in translation. The remainder of the international community, most notably England, would rather lock themselves in a padded cell than be heard disparaging an opponent. Life as a hostage to fortune is not Robinson's idea of fun, that's for sure.
The England coach must have been hugely entertained by his counterpart's comments - far more entertained, it is safe to assume, than he was by the reaction of Rob Andrew, the director of rugby at Newcastle, in respect of Noon's call-up. Andrew named the 25-year-old outside-centre in his starting line-up for Sunday's Premiership match with Northampton at Kingston Park, but cannot now be sure of his availability. He is not best pleased, especially as Scotland have compounded his problems by demanding Craig Hamilton's presence at Murrayfield ahead of their game against the Boks.
"It will seem like a whinge to people reading this, and we knew the reality at the start of the season, but the question still exists as to how on earth you prepare a professional team for a big game under these circumstances," Andrew said. "It's a major challenge that we and the other clubs have to overcome, and I have to say that from a management viewpoint, it's quite impossible.
"I am not making excuses, but the fact is that in a week like we have had this week, you cannot do your job. We understood the rules, so we can't turn around and say we didn't know this was coming, but it doesn't help the managing of a team when we have a revolving door of players coming and going from national squads every single day.
"We don't know what Jamie's status is. I'm hoping to get him back before the weekend, but there is a possibility he might have to sit on the bench for England, and depending how much game time he gets for England, if any, I then have to make a decision on whether he is involved with us on Sunday."
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