FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: Five Go in Search of a Wide World
Rea, Chris, The Independent (London, England)
IF the threats become promises, fantasy turns into fact and words are converted into action, this year's Five Nations' Championship should be the most compelling for many seasons.
England come to the feast promising a new style and boasting the players to carry it off. France with the side which created one of the wonders of the modern age when Philippe Saint-Andre scored the "try from the end of the earth" to secure a series victory in New Zealand last summer. And Ireland, bless 'em, have come with a running outside-half. Have they taken leave of their senses? On Saturday, England, who have lost their last two matches against Ireland, visit Lansdowne Road with a full-back who has recently been introduced to the position, and the home nation have chosen to confront him with a player whose reputation has been built on his abilities as a runner.
Mike Catt may still be made to sweat on Saturday, but not the buckets that might have dripped off him had he been underneath Eric Elwood's murderous fusillade. I am as bewildered by England's decision to omit Paul Hull as the player is himself. He could
have played for his club last week and would have done so happily had he believed his position at full-back in the national side depended upon it. Now he is not even on the bench and the only conclusion to be drawn is that the selectors have a different view of his abilities and his performances in South Africa than the rest of us.
Catt's selection is being interpreted as a further sign of England's intention to run themselves and their opponents into the ground. But the only difference between this England side and their recent predecessors is the recognition that if they are to have a chance of capturing the World Cup they must extend their horizons beyond the forward- orientated game of the past. There is as yet little evidence to suggest that they can. The Canada game proved nothing except to remind us that, with enough possession, England can run, pass and score tries. But so can most good sides.
Jack Rowell has discovered that attitudes are so deeply entrenched that the retraining programmes are taking an age to sink in. Even then he cannot be sure that the players can adapt to the new ideas. As the Australians proved when in their pomp two or three seasons ago, it is not so much the knowledge of what to do that counts as an understanding of when to do it. At Lansdowne Road on Saturday we may get a clearer picture of how far England have advanced.
They come to the championship with a scrummage which is secure but not in the least threatening. Their back row, though physically awesome, are too similar in style, and recycling of the ball is not high on their list of priorities. They could also be exposed if the pace quickens, as it might well do in the French game, but going forward, they will be the very devil to hold. England also have a line-out which looks impervious to all but the most skulduggerous assault.
England will seek to dominate their opponents through their forwards, as they have throughout their rise to the front rank of rugby. That is what they do best. Only time will tell whether they have the instinctive knowledge and the highly sophisticated skills required to play the wider game against the better-organised defensive systems. In Jeremy Guscott they have the player every other country in the world covets. One exquisitely timed pass or an electrifying burst from him can destroy a year's plotting on the drawing board. His reunification with Will Carling could herald the rebirth of the glories the two have shared in the past.
England also appear to be settled at half-back. Rob Andrew, for all his admiration of Dewi Morris, may be even more appreciative of Kyran Bracken's speed of pass. Andrew's renaissance at fly-half, coupled with his extraordinary success as a goal-kicker, is plain. His …
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Publication information: Article title: FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: Five Go in Search of a Wide World. Contributors: Rea, Chris - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 15, 1996. Page number: 8. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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