Sititi scored the outstanding try of the last World Cup, an absolute pearl against England in Melbourne, and delivered a series of performances bordering on the epic. Greening may have fallen from grace because of his indisciplined displays following the 1999 World Cup, yet he was, and remains, the very epitome of a multiskilled, new-age hooker. Greening is far from fit, however; indeed, he may never regain his fitness, thanks to a chronic foot injury.”It may be over for good,” the 28-year-old Lion admitted at the weekend. The other contenders are the 32-year-old Mark Regan of Leeds and two uncapped Sale hookers, Andy Titterrell and Matt Cairns, neither of whom shows an obvious aptitude for Test rugby.Had Phil Greening, the Wasps forward, been even half-fit, Clive Woodward would have been forced to consider him for the summer Tests in New Zealand and Australia.
The same difficulties surround Stevens, whom they had identified as a solution to a problem now giving them considerable grief. Tentative plans to experiment with Trevor Woodman, their current loose-head prop, at hooker had to be shelved when Gloucester showed precisely no interest in playing ball. Why would he, or the club, want to embark on a process like that when he is already outstanding in the prop position? If England look after him properly, they will have a champion tight head at their disposal.”The England coaches have been here before. At the very least, Matt would need two or three years in the role. “A top-class hooker needs to develop his skills from a young age; short-circuiting the system rarely works. The chances of us shifting Matt to hooker are zero.” Short of signing an affidavit and depositing it with his lawyer, Connolly could not have been more adamant.”What we have in Stevens is a great prop in the making,” the head coach at the Recreation Ground continued. From Wales, Gareth Cooper, Stephen Jones and Shane Williams also showed up well.
Woodward’s men look likely to come from the whole of Great Britain and Ireland and not mainly from England.. Any plans the England hierarchy might have had to address their increasingly acute personnel shortage at hooker by switching Matt Stevens, the dynamic young tight-head prop from Bath, to the middle of the front row were comprehensively dashed yesterday by the South African-born player’s club coach. He says that the reason for this is to break down the distinction between Test players and no-hopers. But it seems to me to produce the very effect which he says he is anxious to avoid.We may be sure that he will be well organised. However, even two months ago we all thought he would be organising chiefly England players No longer. The only players to secure 100 per cent support from my team-picking colleagues were Paul O’Connell and Gordon D’Arcy of Ireland. He also wants to take a party of 40, to be divided between 20 for the Test side and 20 for the midweek side, which is almost certainly not such a good idea.
However, he took along more players than the last two, 35, and had better supporting facilities.The new manager seems determined to outdo Cotton on both counts. He appears to want to box the national compass by appointing four subsidiary coaches, which is probably a good idea. Cotton was comparable to Doug Smith in New Zealand in 1971 and Syd Millar in South Africa in 1974. It is remarkable that Colin Charvis, Ben Cohen and Matt Dawson, to name only three, have recovered from their experiences on that trip as fully as they have.Woodward looks as if he will be closer to Fran Cotton, whose management of the 1997 South African tour was much admired. For both, the manager is Clive Woodward, England’s head coach, as he prefers to call himself.The truth is that Woodward’s appointment does not look quite such a bright idea as it did when it was made. In retrospect, he should have been the manager of the Lions in Australia in 2001 instead of Graham Henry, who has now returned from Wales to New Zealand and who then produced an unhappy party and contrived to lose a series he should have won.