Despite the reservations of certain members of the media and the public, the party line from Pennyhill Park before the England squad departed for New Zealand on the 30th of August was that everyone would be fit for the first match against Argentina on September 10th. Everyone in this sense included those who had not taken sufficient part in England’s warm-up matches or had picked up injuries in those games, namely Ben Youngs, Mark Cueto, Tom Wood, Nick Easter and lastly the captain, Lewis Moody.
This statement was correct until yesterday, when England’s captain was forced to pull out of the training squad for this week’s game, and the match against Los Pumas on Saturday, and will also not feature in the game against Georgia on September the 18th. It means that once again the captaincy is Mike Tindall’s for the opening match, which given his status in the squad and leadership against Ireland in the warm-up match is not a bad thing.
The problem lies in that Moody’s absence from the first two England matches diminishes the point of his selection. Going into a World Cup tournament without your captain fit is terrible luck, but if England win comfortably against Argentina and then Georgia, then Moody may not even get back in the team. It raises the question whether he should have been selected for the Rugby World Cup at all, when you have a player such as Hendre Fourie who came in and performed so well against Ireland waiting in the wings.
Players and pundits have spoken of “Moodos” influence on the squad, and his all-action style is a favourite of fellow professionals and fans. However, if as tends to be the way with Moody’s past injury recoveries he faces further setbacks, then there is a chance that he may not play any part in the Rugby World Cup at all. England need to have their leader there from game one. World Cup history favours those sides that have had inspirational leaders on the field (Pienaar, Eales, Johnson, Smit), not in the squad wearing a “moon boot” cheering from the sidelines.
Richie McCaw will lead out New Zealand following the opening ceremony on Friday, the heartbeat of the All Black side. Australia made their captaincy call late, replacing the ineffective Rocky Elsom and bringing in a player who has just captained his Super Rugby side to their first title and is in the form of his life, the second rower James Horwill. England however have gambled on Moody, and right now, it does not appear to have paid off.
by Ben Coles