Dallaglio wants England singing from same page

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am

His voice is deep and resonant, and full of life. Former choirboy and England captain Lawrence Dallaglio's love affair with the game is undiminished and quickly evident as you watch him try to show a gaggle of kids the best way to recycle the ball at a breakdown.

In town as an ambassador for the GFI Hong Kong Football Club Tens, Dallaglio has spent the past couple of days revelling in what he loves best - being involved with the game.

Since retiring in May, 2008 - 'I'm still getting used to breathing the rarified air of normal life' - Dallaglio has not strayed far from the pitch and still savours every moment on it, like the other day when he was involved in a coaching clinic for youngsters at Football Club.

'I started playing rugby when I was eight, and I know how important it is to children to get good coaching.

'This will hopefully be a good experience for these kids,' said Dallaglio, an 85-cap veteran for England and part of the World Cup-winning side in 2003.

With such pedigree, it is natural the conversation quickly turns to England and the World Cup in New Zealand.

Is he worried that Martin Johnson's team lack the self-belief and conviction needed to lay their hands of the Webb Ellis Trophy for a second time?

Dallaglio, who was the only player to feature in every minute of England's successful 2003 World Cup campaign, puts a positive spin on the Dublin debacle last week where Ireland denied England a grand slam.

'This World Cup is probably a bit too soon for this England squad, but what you are guaranteed of is that they will be competitive,' Dallaglio said.

'England will be a team no one will look forward to playing, particularly in the knockout stages.

'England are a good tournament side. They proved again at the last World Cup in 2007 that they are very capable of playing in the pressure games. They will be good enough to ruin some other people's World Cup campaigns like we did last time against Australia (quarter-finals) and France (semi-finals). But we were not good enough to beat South Africa.'

This is what is nagging Dallaglio. He feels there are a couple of sides England might not be able to land the knockout punch against, simply because the present crop of players, one of the youngest English teams ever, is still developing.

In 2003, England were touted by the media as being a Dad's Army outfit. They confounded all critics by reaching the Cup final against Australia, where a magnificent drop-goal in extra-time by flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson handed the Johnson-led team a 20-17 victory. Dallaglio was in the backrow.

So does it all boil down to experience and, if so, shouldn't Wilkinson be starting and not coming off the bench? Dallaglio, who knows first-hand how much experience counted in 2003, says it is all about striking the right balance.

'You want that balance between enthusiasm of youth and the experience in your squad. England are still searching for that leadership ability on the pitch and that will only come through experience.

'But it doesn't bother me. You only get experience from playing in matches like last Saturday against Ireland.

'What counts is playing in pressure-games like that. Twelve months ago, some of these players hadn't even played for England, but now they are playing in big game and learning all the time.'

Ireland defeated England 24-8 - much more emphatically than the scoreline suggests - to deny England a grand slam, although they did win the Six Nations crown.

'If you think about it, I'm not really surprised that we lost to Ireland who had guys who had played over 100 test matches - the Brian O'Driscolls, the Gordon D'Arcy's and Ronan O'Garas of this world. England are a long, long way from that, but we have taken some big steps on the journey,' said Dallaglio, who was part of four successful Six Nations campaigns including a grand slam in 2003.

And should Wilkinson start instead of Toby Flood? 'You have to go on form and fitness. Martin Johnson decided that Toby Flood was in great form in the first two or three games when he was the talk of the town. You can't suddenly then change. It's easy to chop and change as the French have done, but it doesn't work.

'Inconsistency of selection is not good. It doesn't endear you to the players and doesn't endear you to the fans and ultimately it doesn't work because you have to keep going back to the same players.

'Jonny is a great guy to have on the bench as are Steve Thompson and Simon Shaw. They are all World Cup winners and in the last 20 minutes, when they come on, they can make a difference. Unfortunately they are not super-human and by the time they came on against Ireland, the game was already lost.

'But if the game is tight, and you need a penalty or drop-goal to win the match, Jonny is a great guy to bring on. You would put your mortgage on it,' said Dallaglio, who as a schoolboy, sang in the choir, and was part of the group which sang at the wedding of renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

His refrain now calls for England to strike the right balance between experience and youth if they are to be in contention at the World Cup. Dallaglio talks, or sings, from experience. At the last World Cup in 2007, he was dropped from the backrow after the first game and was replaced by Nick Easter.

Following an early loss to South Africa in the group stage, England gradually improved and reached the final and that performance was credited to the senior players like Dallaglio who came on as an impact player off the bench.

'The signs are looking much brighter than 12 months ago, but I would be happier if we could become a little more competitive in a few more positions,' Dallaglio said.