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Rugby Union: SIX NATIONS Barkley talking a good game; England v Italy.

Byline: Alex Lowe

Olly Barkley may not have been in line for the captaincy, but the Bath centre can take much of the credit for England's development through the RBS Six Nations.

Barkley can be found stalking the corridors of England's luxurious Surrey base late at night, using his own time to sit down and talk with his team-mates, building relationships he believes will enhance an inexperienced team come the big kick-off.

Five England captains have been involved in one way or another this season - Jonny Wilkinson has been staying at the camp; Phil Vickery and Matt Dawson have been in the squad, Jason Robinson and now Martin Corry have led the side - but Barkley takes pride in the influence he has had on a growing team this year.

'When I played in the summer I was asked to come on and make an impact. I saw my role as one to inject some spark into the backline,' he said.

'I have adopted more of an organisational role in the Six Nations. It is not one I have done on purpose, but I've seen we haven't had the relationships in the side, we haven't had that cohesiveness that sides of old have had'I have seen my role as more important to establish a framework everyone knows, a structure we can all work towards and that everyone is comfortable with on the pitch.

'A lot of my role as a playmaker is to find out what other people like to do. There is no point making someone do something they don't normally do or like to do.

'I am rooming with Iain Balshaw. We are good mates. I chat to Balsh at night about what he likes to do during the game, how he likes to take the ball and how he likes to get involved in the game.

'To establish individual relationships with players is very important. Charlie Hodgson and I have it. We spend a lot of time talking.'

Balshaw was promoted to the England side to face Italy today after Jason Robinson was ruled out with a thumb injury, and Barkley is confident the Leeds captain will add a different dimension.

'Jason is much more of a freak. Jason is able to do things other players simply can't do. He is an out-and-out attacker, but Balsh is an outand-out full-back,' said Barkley.

'Balsh is able to hit lines at pace, come in from wide. He has a great ability to beat a man one-on-one and he has the ability to hit holes. That is different. Jason would rather work a player over.

'Jason is a 30-metre man, whereas Balsh can sustain his pace and maintain his line for ten yards longer. He is very vocal from the back, he offers good suggestions and ideasRobinson this week spoke freely about how he wants Hodgson and Barkley, both playmakers capable of taking crucial tactical decisions, to 'boss the game' against Italy.

Barkley's introduction at the Millennium Stadium almost turned the game England's way. Had he been unleashed earlier, Wales might not be striving for a Grand Slam.

Against France, England scored two tries and Barkley played a key role in their attacking intent, only for Les Bleus to snatch victory as the Red Rose forwards conceded penalty after penalty.

Two weeks ago, England left Dublin with a six-point defeat to Ireland but it was by a distance their bestshowing of the championship and Andy Robinson's men could quite easily have emerged victorious.

England must now get that extra step. They have never failed to score at least 40 points against Italy in the Six Nations, but Barkley dismissed expectations of another landslide win.

'We will go out and try to win the game, rather than win it with any style. If you jump the whole winning barrier you lose sight of what it is you are trying to do,' he said.

'Putting sides away at international level is about overcoming them mentally as well. The longer you have possession and the longer you are in their territory, themore disheartened they will become.'

Barkley not only spends his evenings talking shop because he is dedicated to hauling England out of the doldrums, but also because there is very little other time.

This week, Barkley did not start preparing for the Italy game until Wednesday as he recovered from Bath's extratime Powergen Cup win over Gloucester - 'the most gruelling match of my career,' he said.

'I won't lie. It's not ideal. Six-day weeks are hard whenever they come around. They are hard work at club level, let alone international matches,' said Barkley. 'There is only so much your body can take

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Olly Barkley has been a big influence as England come to terms with their rebuilding mission
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 12, 2005
Words:797
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