Twickenham is more cathedral than cauldron. The stadium is not the Millennium
with its upright stands and looming presence. Twickenham is more open, less
intimate. But that does not mean it has to be less of an adjunct. It is the
duty of Lancaster’s men to bring joy and energy to the place. If England
play, Twickenham Man will follow.
Those who argue that there are still two years to run and that this is still a
fledgling side miss the point. This is the squad, give or take a young
bolter here or there, that will be on duty in 2015. These are the men
Lancaster has entrusted with serving the cause. They have to make the
southern hemisphere approach Twickenham with trepidation. That is certainly
not the case at the moment.
How well equipped are England to bring that about? No better than hopeful
punters as things stand. They have yet to prove that they can consistently
deliver performances of note. The New Zealand high-point was countermanded
by the worrying nosedive three months later against Wales. That is not the
stuff of champions.
That is why this mini-series will be so revealing. It mirrors the knockout
phase of a World Cup. Fittingly, the most difficult assignment is reserved
for the last. England will have to topple New Zealand if they are to win the
World Cup, or the side that has beaten them along the way. The All Blacks
reign supreme, undefeated since England sent them into their close-season
summer break with ‘a rock under the pillow’, as coach, Steve Hansen
evocatively put it.
Time for England to make things uncomfortable again for their visitors, time
to show that their credentials are blue-chip, time to show that they mean
business. If not, it will be Lancaster with a rock under his pillow.
Gatland’s debate is twaddle
Lions and quotas. Warren Gatland would like to start a debate as to whether
the Lions ought to consider a minimum and maximum representation of players
from any one country in a Lions XV. Well, here is the debate. It is twaddle.
End of. Gatland’s side for the third test had ten Welshmen in it. That was
fine, as it would have been if there had been 15. End of debate.
Phillips lived up to his reputation
Mike Phillips is on his way out of Bayonne, shown the door after a recent
indiscretion. The Bayonne management appeared surprised. Phillips has always
had a glint in his eye, part mischievous, part dangerous. That is what the
Basque club wanted, on the field at any rate. Phillips lived up to his