A real Test to get ready
Football friendlies are often pointless affairs, so, Paul Radley enjoys the fact rugby takes them seriously
Undeterred by the fact the first of two match against Wales last weekend nearly accounted for his own captain, Martin Johnson, the England manager, is welcoming the prospect of playing an "intense" international in Cardiff tomorrow.
Rugby's leading nations have set a good example to other sports about how to give an edge to essentially meaningless preparatory matches ahead of next month's Rugby World Cup.
Friendlies in football are more or less an abomination these days. In cricket, perhaps India would not have found themselves in the predicament they currently are in had they found a way to play more purposeful practice matches.
In the oval-ball game, the managers have realised that meaningful matches equals proper performances, as well as more people through the turnstiles.
The criteria England seemed to settle on for their pre-World Cup fixture list was: who hates us the most? Let's play them.
Having beaten Wales on Saturday, in a game which proved a good test for the likes of the debutant Manu Tuilagi, they know what to expect tomorrow.
"We are away from home, and they will be pretty desperate to win," Johnson said on the RFU website.
"You want to get a win in your first couple of games, and that makes it good. We want the intensity and the pressure.
"Both sides have handled it well. No one has copped out and said, Oh, it's just a warm-up game. They were disappointed to lose, we were happy to win, and both sides have things they can get better at.
"We don't want low-key games at this point. Every game we want to be fast and furious and skilful and intense. I think we'll get that [in Cardiff]."
With Lewis Moody, the captain-elect, sweating on the medial ligament strain he suffered in the first match at Twickenham, Hendre Fourie has been given his chance to shine on the open-side flank.
Fourie, along with Steve Thompson, the hooker, managed to impress the England selectors sufficiently last season, despite playing in a struggling Leeds Carnegie side who were eventually relegated.
"I would never have thought I'd have played a couple of Test matches by now, it is amazing" Fourie, said.
"I never thought this would ever happen, so everything is just a bonus. It is now up to me to work as hard as I can to achieve as much as possible."
Fourie's elevation is one of 13 changes to the England side. They will be captained by Mike Tindall, who reprises his midfield partnership with Shontayne Hape.
Opposite them will be Gavin Henson, the troubled centre, who has been given a late chance to prove he is worth a place in the Wales squad for New Zealand.
Published: August 12, 2011 04:00 AM