England restore Rodber to back row
TIM RODBER'S restoration to the England back row was the one, predictable change in yesterday's selection to play Wales at Twickenham next Saturday. But the rest of the team, too, has been left in no doubt that a repetition against the Welsh of faults evident in the defeat by France would lead to something more wholesale next time round.
Since Jack Rowell and Will Carling, manager and captain, had expressed - and Rowell yesterday reiterated - considerable enthusiasm for the performance in Paris, the mildly threatening language of Rowell's remarks when his squad of 30 trained at St Mary's College, Strawberry Hill, was somewhat surprising.
On the other hand, the evidence of his own eyes was that, whatever encouragement he may have derived from such cliched intangibles as courage and commitment, there were specific technical deficiencies which needed addressing. The choice of Rodber (26) at blind-side flanker for his 23rd cap instead of the perennial stop-gap Steve Ojomoh deals with only one of them.
Rodber was dropped from the French match on grounds of poor form and can scarcely now be said to have proved his improvement, if only because rugby has been at a minimum in the meantime. But the lack of protection afforded Martin Bayfield by Ojomoh standing behind him in the line-out against France turned Rodber's return into a necessity rather than a mere option.
How times change: As recently as the World Cup last summer Rodber would have been regarded as the next thing to indispensable. "We left Tim out because he wasn't performing to his World Cup standard," Rowell said. "We gave him a bit of a kick and we are looking for him to bounce back refreshed." And fit, a combination of knee and ankle injuries having also forced him off the bench at Parc des Princes.
That place went to Dean Richards, whose temporary appearance in Ben Clarke's place at the Parc has not persuaded Rowell to discount his memory, reinforced by video viewing, of Richards's failure to make the pace in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. "Dean came close to the team," Rowell said, even so.
Instead he is depending on the instant reacquaintance of Rodber with Bayfield, whom the manager noted had "a long standing relationship" for Northampton as well as England. Rowell added: "Tim has a lot of work to do and is under no illusions about what will be required. We got back to a free-for-all in the line-out against France."
The manager is also overtly critical of England's perverse reluctance to ring changes in their line-out cause when things were so obviously going awry. Other unspecified aspects of that match which have been exercising his mind would include the throwing in, the effect on England's scrummaging of persisting with Jason Leonard out of position at tight-head prop, the frequently deficient decision making of both forwards and backs and the seeming incoherence of much of English three-quarter play.
"We wanted to make minimal changes," Rowell said. "There were one or two other issues under close review. Those players have been given a second chance. The performance against France was very uplifting but we must show cooler heads. We put ourselves under pressure and conceded unnecessary scores. I have approached those players and they know where they stand."
Yesterday's session, already moved from Twickenham because of the weather, was conducted mainly indoors at St Mary's in a sports hall which the college paid for by selling a painting. England's highly-paid players, many of them no oil paintings, will reconvene at Richmond on Wednesday.