Byline: PETER JACKSON
ENGLAND'S newest teenager will be waiting for the chance at Wembley tomorrow to upstage another high-velocity wing of long ago, the original Chariot of Fire, Eric Liddell.
In the last ever Five Nations weekend, Steve Hanley will be aiming for a try on his debut - something Scotland's Liddell and another star teenager, Tony O'Reilly of Ireland, failed to do.
Whatever his fate against Wales when everything from the Grand Slam to the wooden spoon will be up for grabs no matter what happens in Paris today - Hanley joins a long line of three-quarters to make their championship bow while still in their teens.
Like Hanley, Liddell, the Flying Scot immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire, was 19 when he made his Five Nations debut on the left wing before striking 400 metres Olympic gold in the 1920s. But despite his pace, he needed three matches to score an international try, while O'Reilly needed five starts in the 1950s.
Hanley, though, is used to blasting out of his blocks and delivering tries quickly, as is shown by his Premiership record of 12 in 12 matches for Sale.
Yet for all his country's remorseless progress towards another Slam, he arrives at a time when the old chariot, far from being ablaze, has been swinging low enough to risk extensive damage to the axle. If Hanley is to make the sparks fly in a more uplifting manner, he has to succeed where too many charioteers have failed.
The crushing power of an English pack now surely better than anything in the Southern Hemisphere merely exaggerates the inability of their finishers to finish. In six Tests this season, excluding the meaningless Dutch World Cup qualifier which proved a test of nothing but mental arithmetic, four English wings have managed two tries.
Dan Luger, an unqualified success, has scored both, leaving David Rees, Austin Healey and Tony Underwood with nothing, a fact not intended to decry them as individuals but rather the overall creative failure to give them more of a sniff.
Wales, for all their forward limitations, have had no such trouble, Gareth Thomas, for example, scoring twice as many last time out against Italy as England have scored all campaign. If the Lions were touring this summer, at least four Welsh backs, Thomas, Scott Gibbs, Neil Jenkins and Rob Howley, would be ahead of their English counterparts in the pecking order.
England, of course, hold all the forward aces, which raises the question of whether Wales can win sufficient ball for Gibbs to punch the holes and create enough mayhem for Thomas, Dafydd James and Shane Howarth to strike from deep. Given a little room, they will test England's renowned defensive strategy as devised by Phil Larder to such effect that it completely enmeshed the free-scoring Wallabies and all but did the same to the French even if …