x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Big Banahan provides Bath with reasons to be cheerful

The futures of three of his former Bath colleagues may be in the balance but the outlook for Matt Banahan looks extremely bright.

Matt Banahan, the 18st winger, scores against Argentina. He has made great progress for both England Saxons and the England first team this summer.
Matt Banahan, the 18st winger, scores against Argentina. He has made great progress for both England Saxons and the England first team this summer.

The futures of three of his former Bath colleagues may be in the balance but the outlook for Matt Banahan looks extremely bright. While Michael Lipman, Andrew Higgins and Alex Crockett ponder their next move after resigning from the Recreation Ground amid allegations of missing drug tests, Banahan will be eagerly awaiting the announcement of next month's England Elite Player Squad (EPS) after finishing the end-of-season international programme with a flourish.

Starting the summer in the England Saxons squad bound for the Churchill Cup, Banahan was called up by England team manager Martin Johnson as injury cover for David Strettle. But instead of holding tackle bags, the 6ft 7in 18 stone back not only played in all three of England's matches but also crossed the whitewash in each game, including the consolation score in the 24-22 defeat in Argentina on Saturday.

"Looking back I was just pleased to be in the Saxons squad because that meant I was one of the top 30 backs in the country," said Banahan. Now after three games and two caps, I have three tries. I'm pretty happy with that but I've got to look ahead and hope I'm in the EPS squad on July 1. "All I can do is what comes naturally and play the way I can. I couldn't have done any more over the last three weeks and hopefully I've done enough."

Meanwhile, New Zealand's injury curse struck again with loose forward Adam Thomson and hooker Andrew Hore both casualties from Saturday's shock 27-22 defeat to France in Dunedin. Thomson broke a bone in his right hand and will be out for six weeks, while Hore suffered rib cartilage damage. A full assessment on his injury will be known in the next 24 hours. The injuries, which capped off a bad weekend for the All Blacks, have seen coach Graham Henry turn to the Junior All Blacks ranks once again.

George Whitelock will replace Thomson in the squad while Aled de Malmanche, who can play both prop and hooker, has been called in as cover for Hore. New Zealand started Saturday's game without nine first-choice players - including Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Ali Williams and Conrad Smith - but assistant coach Steve Hansen refused to blame the injury problems for the below-par performance at Carisbrook.

"That's just the nature of the beast," Hansen said. "We can't use that as an excuse. We've just got to soldier on and do the best we can and prepare for next week. "There are some things we can do a lot better to make sure our performance gets better. It's got nothing to do with injuries, it's the people we put on the track who have just got work hard this week and get things right." Robbie Deans, the Australia coach, insisted the bruising 31-8 victory over an uncompromising Italy side on Saturday was just the kind of test his side needed.

"It was a great workout for us essentially, very physical which we always anticipated. "That was a really good physical workout and we'll be better for it," Deans said. "We were a little bit inaccurate around the contact but in a contest where we found it difficult to get any momentum, we were still able to score five tries so you can't fault that." Captain Stirling Mortlock, who provided the inspiration from centre, was equally upbeat ahead of the Tri Nations series.

"Definitely a step forward," he enthused. "There was Test-match intensity at the breakdown and likewise at set-piece time and I was extremely happy with the way we performed in those areas." * With agencies