Rugby Union: Chapman in a green and pleasant land
The luck of the Irish? Don't you believe it. No sooner had Brian Ashton, the national coach, hatched a cunning plan to beef up his skeletal threequarter line by luring Dominic Chapman to the green but impoverished pastures of Lansdowne Road than Clive Woodward, his opposite number at well-to- do Twickenham, threw a king-sized spanner in the works.
Woodward yesterday took a fleeting opportunity to coax the Richmond wing away from Ireland by naming him in his 30-man squad for the pre-Five Nations squad session at Bisham Abbey on Wednesday. No one could accuse the England coach of failing to think on his feet; the absence of the six-man Bath contingent from next week's get-together - the West Countrymen have been released to prepare for their Heineken Cup final with Brive - created half a dozen spare places among the international elite.
Woodward has chosen to fill those gaps with in-form outsiders, of whom Chapman is undoubtedly the hottest. The other newcomers include Chris Catling, the fast-maturing Gloucester full-back, and Dorian West, Leicester's second-string hooker, while the three remaining call- ups - Alex King of Wasps, Phil Greening of Gloucester and Stuart Potter of Leicester - have all been involved at Test squad level at some stage over the past three years or so.
Aware of Chapman's emerald ancestry - born in Kingston-upon-Thames, the former Harlequin's paternal grandparents came from southern Ireland - Ashton made overtures to the player after watching him skin London Irish alive in last weekend's Premiership fixture at Sunbury. However, Woodward appears to have won the day. Senior figures at Richmond were confident yesterday that their colleague would make his intentions clear by pitching up at Bisham rather than in Dublin next week.
One way or another, Richmond's Tetley's Bitter Cup fifth-round tie at Bath this afternoon will be of immense interest to the England selectors. Neither Andy Robinson, the Bath coach, nor John Kingston, his Richmond counterpart, were planning to name their sides until the last possible moment - another surefire indication that the backroom tacticians are suffering from delusions of Alex Ferguson-style grandeur - but with both Chapman and a certain Jeremy Guscott virtually certain to take the field, the match is pregnant with significance.
Bath, the self-styled knock-out kings of England but up against the eight ball for the second successive season, will be hugely motivated after the fortnight they have just endured. With Kevin Yates still suspended over the Simon Fenn ear-biting scandal and the annual report showing a trading loss of pounds 1.5m for the past financial year, the Recreation Ground will remain a humour-free zone unless and until the players get a decent win under their belts.
"We've been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, so we have to concentrate on beating Richmond and allowing the good parts of Bath rugby to be talked about again," said Guscott, who will be playing his first game since breaking an arm during the third and final Lions Test in South Africa six months ago. "From a personal point of view, I have to be positive about this tie. Playing in front of the Bath supporters against a multi-talented team like Richmond is as good a return as I could hope for."
Saracens' chances of reversing last month's narrow home defeat by Leicester, their only Premiership loss of the season, were boosted by Richard Hill's successful second-team run-out at Richmond last Wednesday. The England loose forward resumes his potent back-row partnership with Tony Diprose and Francois Pienaar in what is certain to be a high-class tie, featuring as it does rival World Cup-winning outside- halves in Michael Lynagh and Joel Stransky.
"Joel is right up there with Hugo Porta and Mark Ella as one of the top three stand-offs I have encountered in my career," said the ever-charitable Lynagh yesterday. It was Stransky's last-ditch drop goal that earned the Tigers their 22-21 Christmas victory at Vicarage Road and Leicester's cup experience and natural resilience, allied to big wins over Coventry and Wasps in the past fortnight, suggest another hard-earned victory on the road.
Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps and England captain, sits out tomorrow's tie with Fylde at Loftus Road as a precaution against aggravating his bruised shoulder. Just for once, his majestic presence is unlikely to be missed: the Londoners have Nick Greenstock, their international centre, back in midfield and Andy Gomarsall, the former Test scrum-half, on the bench following back surgery. Besides, Fylde are marooned at the foot of Premiership Two and in no obvious shape to plot an upset.
ENGLAND (Training squad, Bisham Abbey, 28 January): Backs: M Perry (Bath), D Rees (Sale), A Healey (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), P De Glanville (Bath), M Catt (Bath), P Grayson (Northampton), K Bracken (Saracens), M Dawson (Northampton). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), K Yates (Bath), G Rowntree (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), R Cockerill (Leicester), M Regan (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), D Grewcock (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), A Diprose (Saracens), N Back (Leicester).
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