Vickery lifted by challenge of leading England

Chris Hewett
Sunday 01 December 2013 05:39
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If Phil Vickery's career as England's Test captain begins and ends at the Velez Sarsfield Stadium on Saturday – a distinct possibility, with the likes of Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio still in international circulation – the Gloucester prop does not intend to reflect on his brief period of authority with the regret of a man who failed to extract full value from a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And if that experience turns out to be a little on the tasty side, to use one of rugby's many euphemisms, so be it.

"I won't let this pass me by," Vickery said yesterday. "You will not find a bigger challenge in world rugby than the one awaiting us this weekend, and I find that stimulating. I'm nervous already, and it is a feeling I have grown to love." And if the rugged Argentinian forwards emerge in full warpaint and set about rearranging some English features? "If it kicks off, it kicks off. I won't take a step backwards, and I would not expect any member of my team to be any different. Unless we stick together both on and off the pitch, it will be very difficult for us."

Aggressive? Certainly. But necessary, too. Vickery is more aware than anyone that with five new caps in his starting combination and an ocean of inexperience sloshing around the England camp, an old-fashioned call to arms is an essential ingredient in the pre-match mix. This game, England's first in South America since the summer of 1997, may turn out to be as clean as a whistle – for the most part, last weekend's Argentina-France match was a highly respectable affair – but however docile it is, it will not be won by the team on the back foot.

Vickery has captained England once, in the non-cap victory over the Barbarians at Twickenham last month. This, though, is for real. "There is no comparison to be made between the two matches," said the 26-year-old tight head. "The Barbarians come together to put on a show for the crowd, and that is often to their detriment because they attempt things no serious Test side would ever contemplate. Here, we're looking at a real game of rugby. There is no show. This is about winning, whatever it takes.

"When I met up with the squad for the Baa-Baas build-up, I had no idea what to expect. I am not being disrespectful when I say I didn't know some of the people, and that I felt a certain apprehension as a result. But over the course of the week we spent together, they emerged as quality players who were relishing a fantastic opportunity to show the selectors what they could do. Now, I have the utmost respect for them.

"We all know what we're in for this weekend: I play my club rugby at Kingsholm, which is a pretty intimidating place for opponents, but the Velez Sarsfield makes Kingsholm look like a kindergarten. There is a positive way of looking at it, though. What greater incentive could we have than to play in front of a crowd like this one?"

Argentina have yet to confirm their side, but the indications are that their inside centre and captain, Lisandro Arbizu, who suffered a rib injury during the French Test, and the outside-half Felipe Contepomi, who has problems with a muscle in his back, will be fit. Both men have been named in a 30-strong party for the two-match visit to South Africa, which begins next week.

* Scotland recovered from last weekend's shock defeat to Canada to overcome a United States 'A' side 24-8 in Portland on Tuesday. Gordon Ross landed three penalties to give Scotland a 9-0 interval lead. In the second half, Scotland added tries through Graeme Burns and Allister Hogg, one of which was converted by Ross, plus another Ross penalty. Scotland meet the United States in a full international in San Francisco on Saturday.

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