Johnson ruffles feathers with culling plan

Lingering sense of injustice after five dropped from World Cup squad before Wales warm-up. By Chris Hewett
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The Independent Online

If it was fine for Martin Johnson to take a cosmopolitan approach to his World Cup 45-man squad selection back in June, with its complement of southern hemisphere types, there was something that stuck in the craw about his decision to pick Leicester's No 8 Thomas Waldrom, for no obvious reason and on the basis of no discernible evidence.

Not least because the uncapped New Zealander's elevation to elite status destroyed the hopes and dreams of two of the club game's hardest-working and most effective loose forwards: Luke Narraway of Gloucester, whose ironic view of the matter was promptly "tweeted" to the rugby nation, and Phil Dowson of Northampton.

Waldrom had done precious little, at least in public, to justify a place among the contenders for next month's tournament in All Black country. Set against Narraway and Dowson, he'd done nothing at all.

So it was with some discomfort yesterday that Johnson included Waldrom in his initial cull ahead of this weekend's match with Wales at Twickenham, the first of three warm-up fixtures designed to reintroduce England's finest to the harsh physical realities of the game at international level before the serious business with Argentina in Dunedin on 10 September.

The manager reported that a twanged calf muscle had limited Waldrom's training camp involvement to something like zero – a revelation that will not have improved Dowson's or Narraway's mood.

Waldrom's clubmate, the hooker George Chuter, also lost out, having been overtaken in the pecking order by the rejuvenated Lee Mears of Bath, as did the long-serving Wasps flanker Joe Worsley, who played in the 2007 World Cup final, if only for a few seconds. As for the seven-strong bank of wings, Johnson cut that down to five by drawing a line through the names of David Strettle and James Simpson-Daniel.

"This is the tough part of the job," the manager conceded. "It's not nice. Thomas was incredibly disappointed, but he's not really participated. Joe worked hard, but we decided he's just a little short at the moment. George has been around the squad a long time but so has Lee."

Simpson-Daniel, one of the great lost talents of English rugby, fell off the training pace through illness and injury – two i-words that have come to define his career.

Of the five to have fallen yesterday, Strettle can consider himself hardest done-by. According to Johnson, the Saracens wing trained exceptionally well before picking up a minor injury in last week's full-contact practice match at the Stoop. Yet it seems Charlie Sharples, the late challenger from Gloucester, trained better. So now 40 players will fight over 30 seats on the flight to Auckland.

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