DUNEDIN, New Zealand, September 22 – England centre Mike Tindall sidestepped questions about his private life after being recalled on Thursday for the World Cup match against Romania at the Otago Stadium on Saturday.
The 2003 World Cup winner has found himself at the centre of controvery following the release of video footage which at one stage showed him being kissed on the head by an unidentified woman during the team’s night out in Queenstown ahead of last week’s 41-10 Pool B win against Georgia.
The images sparked a worldwide media furore because two months ago Tindall married Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Phillips, a former three-day event world champion equestrian rider, attended a charity dinner in Auckland Wednesday night and has been reported to be arriving in Dunedin in time for Saturday’s match.
Tindall, 32, was rested from the Georgia match although England manager Martin Johnson insisted his omission was purely a matter of squad rotation and was in no way a disciplinary measure.
Asked if he’d been through a “challenging” time, Tindall, who made his Test debut 11 years ago, said: “Not really. I’m disappointed obviously, because you want to play every game.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t get a run out last weekend but you get down and train and that’s as simple as it is.”
As for any effect the ensuing headlines had on his own game, the softly-spoken Tindall, in contrast to the image he presented on the videotape, added: “I hope it’s fine.”
England’s press officers had warned journalists to stick to rugby questions only and when a television reporter tried to get a response from Johnson about the fall-out from the drinking session, the annoyed 2003 World Cup-winning captain cut him off by saying: “We’ve put it to bed, it’s not an issue.
“I said to you last week what happened, the guys went out and had a drink.
“We’ve played a game since then and we are looking forward to another game this weekend so if you’ve got any questions about that we’d love to hear them and answer them for you,” Johnson added.
Tindall, capped 73 times, was one of seven changes to last week’s team made by Johnson.
Mark Cueto returned on the wing after being ruled out of both of England’s two previous matches at this tournament, which started with a 13-9 win over Argentina, because of a back problem.
Meanwhile 2003 heroes Jonny Wilkinson and Steve Thompson were back at fly-half and hooker respectively, although Johnson insisted nothing could be read into his selection other than he’d picked the right team for this match.
In the pack, London Irish loosehead prop Alex Corbisiero is set to make his first start of the tournament, with Leicester duo Louis Deacon and Tom Croft also returning to the first team.
James Haskell remained at No.8 in the ongoing absence through a back injury of Nick Easter.
England are currently top of Pool B as they bid to reach a third successive World Cup final and have won all four of their previous Tests against Romania, including a record 134-0 thrashing of the Oaks at Twickenham 10 years ago.
But England’s opening pool matches have seen them concede more than 20 penalties in total.
Former lock Johnson was fuming after the Georgia game but he said Thursday: “I always look fairly angry even on a good day. The good thing is there has been a lot of honesty from the players.”
Romania coach Romeo Gontineac had made 11 changes to his side but Johnson insisted England were still in for a tough match: “We are seeing coaches manage their squads, it doesn’t change our outlook.”
Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Mike Tindall, Mark Cueto; Jonny Wilkinson, Ben Youngs; James Haskell, Lewis Moody (capt), Tom Croft; Tom Palmer, Louis Deacon; Dan Cole, Steve Thompson, Alex Corbisiero
Replacements: Lee Mears, David Wilson, Simon Shaw, Tom Wood, Richard Wigglesworth, Toby Flood, Delon Armitage