Austin Healey: “If Henson is playing, England have a great chance.”

On Thursday, Ben Coles caught up with former England and Lions international Austin Healey to talk about the work he was doing on O2’s “Inside Line” programmes alongside co-host Abi Griffiths, as well as how he thought England were shaping up so far ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Austin Healey

The weekly programme produced by RFU TV takes the viewer behind the scenes of England’s training camp, giving fans another view of the England players off the pitch and away from the press conferences. It includes interviews with players, footage of the squad relaxing at Pennyhill Park, as well as gathering Austin’s thoughts on how England are progressing. “People want to get as close to the action as possible and I think we do that very well with O2 Inside Line. It gives you a very good idea of what it’s actually like to play for England.”

Looking ahead to this weekend’s clash between England against Wales in Cardiff, Healey expected the intensity to go up a notch. “It will be a more difficult game. The Welsh pack wasn’t that great last week so that’s an area where they could be improved dramatically.” He was impressed with the comeback from Wales at the end of the second half at Twickenham, commenting that it was down to a combination of Wales picking up their game and England losing their concentration. “They’ve got some great players out there, Warburton especially, but England’s defence was poor and their line speed was terrible. It will be interesting to see what they’ve worked on in training because that is what World Cups are all about.”

England’s play bar the debut try from Manu Tuilagi was far from spectacular, but for Healey this was a non-issue. “England have been criticised for not playing that expansively, but to be honest they’re winning matches, apart from the Ireland game at the end of the Six Nations. They’ve been in control of their previous encounters. It’s all about momentum at this stage, and staying injury free.”

On the subject of injuries, Healey had commented on the O2 Inside Line from last week how Lewis Moody had a tendency to get injured, with his prediction coming true. Asked how England should manage Moody now that he was unlikely to feature in the remaining warm-up games, his response was positive. “Speaking to the players they find Moodos hugely influential, so there’s definitely a part for him to play in the squad. He needed a big performance last week against Wales not just to prove his fitness but also his form. Tom Wood now has a chance to make the shirt his own, and Haskell could come in there as well, meaning the number 7 shirt really is wide open.”

After the poll here on The Rugby Blog on Tuesday where we asked you to vote for England’s captain over the next few games, I asked Austin the same question. His response was to back former team mate Mike Tindall, ahead of your choice Dylan Hartley, stating that “Tindall could come in and do a good job as captain playing in the centre alongside Manu Tuilagi.”

On the subject of Tuilagi and centres, Healey offered some interesting opinions on England taking utility players out to New Zealand. “The fact that Ben Foden can play scrum-half means that England are likely to only take two specialists, but that’s a very dangerous game to play for a big tournament like a World Cup, particularly when it’s so far away in New Zealand. Doing that though creates space for an extra centre, with Riki Flutey under pressure fighting for a place there.”

When suggested that Flutey could go potentially as a third fly-half, Healey quickly dismissed the idea. “It might help Flutey get selected, but I can’t remember him having a good game at 10. He certainly hasn’t got the kicking game that can control an international match, with Ben Foden even having a better kicking game at fly-half than Flutey.”

“10 is one of those positions where you need to take three specialists with you, otherwise you get the scenario that happened with myself on tour with the Lions in 2001. I was injured the day before the start of the Third test against Australia, as was Rob Howley, and Andy Nicol who was holidaying at the time had to brought into the Test match squad. If you’re in France then it’s fine because the flight takes no time, but in New Zealand you can’t take that risk.”

As for the re-match in Cardiff, Healey expected the same outcome as last weekend at Twickenham. “I think England will win, but it will be a much harder game. The only thing that concerns me is the continuity of the spine of the team. Wigglesworth and Flood won’t have played together for a long time, not since schoolboys, so that will be interesting.”

The selection of Gavin Henson at 12 for Wales seemed to put a smile on his face as well, with the former Leicester player making clear that it was Henson who England would be targeting. “There’s a great chance for England if Gavin Henson’s playing. As a coach and a player you want to be playing against someone who has been out of the game for that long doing reality television or whatever else he’s been up to, and he will be heavily targeted.”

Moving on to the conversation about who might be left behind and not make the cut for New Zealand, the selection of Mark Cueto for the second weekend in a row case as a bit of a surprise to Austin. “It’s very interesting. It says to me that they want to see more of him, and that his spot is far from guaranteed, which is a surprise considering he was first choice during the Six Nations. Maybe he hasn’t performed that well in pre-season and in testing, which opens the door for Ugo Monye or Charlie Sharples. I didn’t expect to see Cueto in there again this weekend.”

Another player who appears to be playing for his place this weekend is Leicester lock Louis Deacon. “He needs to perform, even though he’s really liked by John Wells and Graham Rowntree, after a few injury problems. It’s the same for anyone who has come into the squad after some time out from the game, they have to really perform in order to convince the selectors.”

Healey’s last point to England was a warning, emphasising how important it was not just to perform in these warm-up matches, but to also learn from them and improve on the areas where mistakes appear. “You play one game and then get one week to work on all the mistakes you’ve made, and if you do that you progress. If that doesn’t happen, you’ll be flying home from Auckland.”

by Ben Coles

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4 thoughts on “Austin Healey: “If Henson is playing, England have a great chance.”

  1. Dear Austin, although you were right on a lot of points , and I would not like to see Riki Flutey at 10, he won the GP final (08) as a 10 against..

    Tigers, if you remember

  2. Henson played, had a great half hour. England lost. Same old Austin . Takes me back to some of his inane comments during the 01 Lions tour.

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