LONDON // None of the England coaching staff can be called effusive, but there was a real glint in the eyes of England's attack coach, Brian Smith, when he was discussing the performance of the back three following Saturday's victory over the Pacific Islanders at Twickenham. Winger Paul Sackey scored two tries in the opening game of England's November international series, while Ugo Monye and Delon Armitage belied the fact that they were representing their country for the first time with assured performances.
"If you were to say what we were really happy with, you'd say that the back three were outstanding," Smith said at England's HQ. The player who was singled out for particular praise was Armitage, the 24-year-old London Irish full-back, who scooped the man-of-the-match award for a near-faultless display. "I just told Delon that I don't think I have ever seen a better debut than that from a player. It was fantastic," Martin Johnson, the England manager, said.
Armitage was extremely nervous on the morning of the game, but texts from former England internationals Jason Robinson and Mike Catt, steadied his nerves. "I was so nervous that I didn't even have any breakfast," he said. "I received a text message from Jason Robinson, and to receive a message from a player like that, who I admired so much, meant a lot to me." "He told me I deserved my chance and had worked really hard for it. That gave me great confidence. Words and messages from other guys, like Mike Catt, settled me down."
His performance put a cap on a remarkable rise to prominence, as the Trinidad-born back wasn't even named in Johnson's 64-man elite squad in the summer. "Delon was injured for pretty much the second half of the season," Smith, who coached at London Irish last year, said. "I recall the selection meeting when we were picking the names. We thought that leaving Delon out could be the best thing for him as he'd have to fight his way in.
"We watched him peg everyone else back. He's been lucky. Sometimes you get your chance, and he has got his reward for persisting." It could have been all so different, however, as in his younger days, Armitage was prone to the odd night out, but he heaped praise on the current London Irish coach Toby Booth, for putting him straight. "I was quite lucky to have Toby as an academy manager. f he wasn't there, I would probably have been kicked out for my ill-discipline," he said.
"I wanted to go partying, everyone wants to do that at school. Getting into that academy though, that kind of lifestyle as a professional, you have to cut it out, and Toby helped me do that." He will need all the discipline he can muster this weekend as England prepare themselves to face Australia, who almost suffered a fright in Padova on Saturday when they narrowly beat Italy 30-20. firstname.lastname@example.org