Former "lieutenant" Ashton relishing battle with England

 

THE intriguing sub plot for the next fortnight features Jack Rowell and Brian Ashton. When they were devising in tandem Bath's stirring string of club successes, who'd have thought they would one day be coming out of opposite corners of the international ring - and one fancies that in the upcoming days England's put upon beanpole coach will need his full thesaurus of defensive mixed metaphors to help ward off the dandy and defiant threats coming from the men in green now organised by his former lieutenant.

As Ashton was saying merrily: "Sure, I'll back to win any team I'm involved with," Rowell only gingerly picked up the theme on behalf of his team with the generality: "Ireland on their day can beat anyone and have always been capable of doing so.

The first days after an international match are spent poring over video recordings of your opponents last match. For all their record score at Twickenham, Ashton and his camp will be working the rewind button on England's dismal first hour on Saturday when they came close, as the boxing fancy says, to stinking out the joint.

This in spite of Scotland's palpable failure to "play the ref", to make the right noises, call him "Sir" or whatever. From the start the Scots got the back up of the strict noncomformist Kiwi Celt, Paddy O'Brien. He was ruthlessly unforgiving.

Rowell publicly acclaimed his side's triumph on the overworked scoreboard but in private he must have serious doubts for the long term and, particularly, in the short term for more than anyone he must know his former lieutenant is capable of hatching a whole batch of wily one off strategies for the Dublin match.

Rowell praised his new back row. But is it really the best in England? Beef all right, but where was the melody of a devilishly orchestrated hunting unit which every Southern Hemisphere side puts out at will? Has Rowell decided on this trio until next January? I doubt it.

And is the engaging ragamuffin Andy Gomarsall really the sapper to help do their dirty work both fore and aft? Given half a chance, Ireland will work at unravelling his concentration even more. Captain Marvel was on a strut. His adoring throng was tickled pink as Will Carling breezed a few times through the midfield without a Scottish hand even ruffling his hair. But what Ireland and their replay buttons will have noted was that each time he was finally hauled down, there was not a white shirt in support either to his right or his left.

Young Tim Stimpson at fullback looks and, they say, is, a heck of a powerful front foot player. But it strikes me he only makes the play if he is "called" to.

England need an instinctive counter attacker - and pronto. Ireland will have noticed this. But it ended upbeat and Rowell stuck with that script with his inimitable construction: "We shrugged off the cobwebs which had left a bad taste, in our mouth after the Argentina, game and once we had broken down the Scots we put a large dent in the scoreboard."

Ireland's new honorary citizen, Brian Ashton, might well be mightily encouraged - as he wears his forefinger to the bone on the FF and REW buttons. "I know him as well as Jack does," said, Phil de Glanville with a nice challenging smile, "and Brian will bed looking forward to our arrival in Dublin with a very expectant relish."