Sanderson leads England after Corry is told to rest

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andy Robinson, the head coach, demanded the Leicester No 8 and national captain avail himself of a proper rest, appointing the Worcester flanker Pat Sanderson as stand-in captain for the duration of business in Wallaby land. It is highly unusual for a coach to pull rank on a captain to this degree, but these are strange times. When the Rugby Football Union eventually appoint their director of élite rugby, Robinson will no longer exert complete control over the selection of his own team. Perhaps he is flexing his decision-making muscle while it is still there to flex.

Corry was not best pleased, having insisted for months that he wanted to travel. "Andy said he is looking at the bigger picture," he reported. "I have played a lot of rugby this year, but I'm happy with my form and fitness. I just want to get out there and get England winning again, and the only way I can influence that is by being on the field. This is very difficult for me because I am emotionally involved."

However, he conceded that Robinson had logic on his side. "I think it is right that people other than players make these calls," he admitted, adding: "While I would like to tour, I have to listen both to Andy's advice and to what my body is telling me. Andy has a plan to get everyone in the best possible shape possible for the World Cup next year. It is his only priority."

Sanderson, a survivor of the 1998 "tour from hell", which began, ominously enough, with a 76-0 defeat in Australia, was the only serious captaincy candidate once Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps No 8, and Steve Borthwick, the Bath lock, signalled their intention to undergo minor surgery at the end of domestic campaign. The 28-year-old forward from Chester has been among the most consistent performers in the Premiership since joining Worcester from Harlequins two seasons ago, and his international performances last autumn were combative in the extreme.

In addition, he has the advantage of being relatively fresh, having struggled for much of the last five months with back problems. "Martin led England well when I was playing alongside him," Sanderson said yesterday.

"My aim is to take his high standards with me to Australia. I was privileged to lead England A to victory in the Churchill Cup last summer, and this is another huge honour. I will do everything I can to help England perform well against the Wallabies."

He has a fair bit on his plate, one way or another. Apart from England's well-chronicled shortages at scrum-half and inside centre, there is now an issue over the props, or lack of them. Andrew Sheridan and Matt Stevens are off the trip because of injury; Perry Freshwater is up to his neck in French Championship duties with Perpignan.

If Freshwater is not released, Julian White, the Leicester tight-head specialist, will be the only Test-conditioned prop available to Robinson.

The world champions beat the Wallabies last November because they scrummaged the living daylights out of them. Now the front-row playing field has been levelled, the Australians have vengeance in mind.

Lowdown on Pat Sanderson

* 1998: England debut on the "tour from hell" in 64-22 defeat by New Zealand in Dunedin. Played three of four Tests.

* 2001: Three caps on North America tour

* 2002: Damaged knee ligaments

* 2005: Three caps in autumn Test series.

* 2006: Out of Six Nations with back injury. Has also had fractured shoulder, two damaged knees and prolapsed disc.

Comments