The chances of a Pacific Islanders victory this weekend have largely been written off – in fact, it’s barely been considered. It’s yet another new dawn for England, but there is absolutely no reason for complacency.
Martin Johnson’s first England selection has a fresh-faced look to it. It’s a team with huge promise for the future, and if key partnerships develop, England should be a world force once again.
It shouldn’t be overlooked though that there is a slightly worrying dearth of experience, particularly in the backs where Jamie Noon is the most-capped player by a distance, and that alone should remind us that we are still near the bottom of a deep trough in the history of English rugby.
If I were the opposition coach, I’d be ordering a barrage of high balls to test Delon Armitage, Ugo Monye and Paul Sackey in the first quarter. I’d then have some enormous Samoans, Tongans and Fijians ploughing into them to make sure they know what’s coming every time the ball is sent skyward.
Rattle the confidence of a debutant early on, and the opportunities will come. Moreover, the likelihood of an injury will increase and force one of the back three off the field and on comes Toby Flood or Harry Ellis to force an entire reshuffle and probably kill any sort of gameplan that revolves around Danny Cipriani at fly-half.
The Pacific Islanders should not be written off, just because they won’t be as well prepared as England. Any team sheet featuring Sailosi Tagicakibau, Seru Rabeni, Cencus Johnston, Finau Maka and Vilimoni Delasau should be a cause for concern for any side. Samoa, Tonga and Fiji have been improving rapidly as individual rugby nations, and this is their equivalent of the British Lions.
Can we really think the unthinkable? An England defeat at Twickenham against the Pacific Islanders? The one reassuring factor is that Johnno has picked on form, but don’t think this will be a one-sided affair.