Gomarsall out to erase bad memories
Andy Gomarsall can erase lingering memories of a rare rugby event tomorrow - an English catastrophe at Twickenham – when he lines up in the eagerly-awaited RBS 6 Nations Championship showdown with France.
And Gloucester scrum-half Gomarsall has vowed to expend “every ounce of energy” on England’s cause against the reigning Grand Slam title holders.
The 28-year-old, a late replacement for calf injury victim Matt Dawson, will make his first Twickenham Test match start since 1997.
That appearance almost six years ago coincided with England’s last home defeat in Five or Six Nations combat as France memorably fought back from a 14-point deficit to triumph 23-20.
Gomarsall collected just one more cap in the next three years, so the opportunity that awaits him tomorrow is one he does not intend to let slip.
“My career has been full of irony,” said Gomarsall, assessing the twist of fate which sees him, and not Dawson, coming face to face with talisman French scrum-half Fabien Galthie.
“I am obviously chuffed to have this opportunity, but I have trained all week with the team and Clive (Woodward) is extremely comfortable with it.
“I just want to keep as fresh as I possibly can, now, for Saturday, so that I can have every available ounce of energy.”
Gomarsall was preparing for the journey back to England’s Surrey training base from the West Country – Thursday is a day off in Test week – when Woodward’s call came through on his mobile last night.
He faces a huge task stepping in for Dawson though, whose form this season - especially during England’s autumn Test victories over New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – proved inspirational.
Dawson’s absence was confirmed when he failed a fitness test yesterday, having been unable to train with England all week.
The replacements’ bench vacancy created by Gomarsall’s promotion goes to 28-year-old uncapped Sale Sharks player Nick Walshe.
Walshe was among the England substitutes against Argentina in Buenos Aires last summer and is an experienced Zurich Premiership player. He was to have played for England against France in tonight’s A international at Northampton.
“Obviously, I wish Matt a speedy recovery,” said Woodward.
“Matt has been unable to train with us this week, but Andy has taken a full part in all the sessions, so we expect the disruption to be minimal.”
England had already lost prop Phil Vickery through a back problem, while wing Ben Cohen only resumed training on Wednesday after experiencing tightness in his right thigh.
They are problems that Woodward could have done without, yet England’s imperious world record 18-Test unbeaten Twickenham run sees them go into ‘Le Crunch’ as slight favourites.
Not that France, even without prop Pieter De Villiers’ considerable presence after he tested positive for use of ecstasy and cocaine, fear their task in what could be a truly epic contest.
“England are a hard side to beat,” said French coach Bernard Laporte.
“But they are not the summit of the Himalayas. They could have been beaten in the autumn by New Zealand and Australia.”
French manager Jo Maso added: “We are not scared of them. We respect England a lot, but we want to show them how much we have improved.
“This match will reveal which team is currently holding supremacy in Europe, as well as showing which team should have a better chance of winning the World Cup in the autumn.”
If France improve on their first 30 minutes in Paris last year, when they made England look second rate en route to an unflattering 20-15 triumph, then fortress Twickenham will surely be stormed.
England are thirsting to make amends for events at Stade de France 11 months ago, and one player in particular can help make it happen.
Julian White’s England career was on the rocks earlier this season after he received a 10-week ban for butting England colleague Graham Rowntree during a Premiership clash between Bristol and Leicester.
To say that Woodward was furious with his tighthead prop would have won an award for understatement.
Tomorrow White has a gilt-edged chance to confirm his credentials as an immensely destructive scrummager, and give England the nudge in an area where domination almost always equates with victory.
“The lay-off definitely helped,” said White, recalling the enforced two month lay-off.
“I tried to use it as an opportunity to work on my weaknesses. I learnt a lesson back in the autumn, and I am certainly not going to throw it away now by doing anything silly.
“I thank Clive for his vote of confidence, and I will try and go out there and play as well as I possibly can.”
If England’s forwards can subdue the French eight – although keeping quiet talent like Olivier Magne, Serge Betsen, Imanol Harinordoquy and Raphael Ibanez represents a tall order even for the world’s officially-ranked number one team - then a home win beckons.
Quality possession would also give England’s backs, especially the intriguing selection of fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson and Charlie Hodgson at 10 and 12 respectively, chance to take on France at their own uninhibited free-flowing game.
England certainly have sufficient firepower out wide – the back three of Cohen, Jason Robinson and Dan Luger boast 46 Test tries between them – to cause mayhem.
France will have plenty of tricks up their sleeve, and it should provide exhilarating, compelling viewing – a game to match the occasion, Jason Leonard’s 100th cap et al.
Who knows, it could even provide a mouth-watering dress rehearsal for a World Cup semi-final between Europe’s top two teams in Sydney later this year.