England summon massed ranks

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The Independent Online
No fewer than 77 players, nearly the entire English-qualified population of the Allied Dunbar Premiership, were yesterday summoned by the Rugby Football Union to next Wednesday's national squad get-together at Bisham Abbey. Don Rutherford, the RFU rugby director who compiled the list in the glaring absence of a coaching panel, would have saved himself an awful lot of time had he simply named those not required.

Bisham is a huge, rambling complex and Rutherford clearly believes the England elite should expand to fill the space available. Five full-backs, eight wings and 13 - yes, 13 - second rows have been asked to attend, that last group pitting relative newcomers in Danny Grewcock and Chris Murphy alongside blasts from the past in the shape of Martin Bayfield and Richard West.

It was still unclear yesterday whether this great tide of rugby humanity would be introduced to the new coaching team when it descends on Buckinghamshire for next week's pow-wow. Contractual discussions with Clive Woodward, the chief coach designate, and two of his putative sidekicks, John Mitchell, of Sale, and Rob Smith, of Wasps, have yet to be concluded, although Twickenham sources were confident of an official announcement sooner rather than later.

As things stand, the players will simply discuss the forthcoming autumn internationals against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia with senior RFU representatives, including Bill Beaumont and Fran Cotton. The Test sequence begins at Twickenham on 15 November when the Wallabies provide the opposition. No active training will take place during the Bisham rendezvous.

Rutherford's "if in doubt, choose the lot" approach meant that all 22 English Lions from the summer tour of South Africa were included along with the 29 who finished the simultaneous summer series in Argentina, plus 26 outsiders. The most eye-catching promotions were those of Matt Perry, the exceptionally gifted utility back from Bath, and Chris Catling, the Gloucester full-back whose reputation as a cool and clever footballer continues to grow with every performance. Perry, in particular, could find himself fast-tracked into Test contention with almost indecent haste, for Woodward is a very public admirer of his talents.

Whoever ends up playing in the England back division when New Zealand arrive at Twickenham on 22 November will rest easier in their bed as a result of the news from Auckland yesterday. Jonah Lomu, the outsized All Black wing who made such an unholy mess of the red rose defences during that nightmarish World Cup semi-final in Cape Town just over two years ago, has again delayed his return to top-flight rugby following chronic kidney trouble.

Lomu had intended to turn out in a friendly this weekend but failed to satisfy John Mayhew, the All Blacks' resident doctor, as to his fitness. "Jonah is improving, but he's not ready," said Mayhew. "He may pass our fitness programme next week - we are pleased with the way he is responding - but he remains on medication to control his kidney function and still feels a bit tight after training." Lomu's chances of making the All Black tour, which begins in Wales in a little over seven weeks, must now be in considerable doubt.

On the European front, Keith Wood and Thierry Lacroix have both been passed fit for Harlequins' Heineken Cup pool match with Bourgoin, runners- up in last year's French Championship, at The Stoop tomorrow.

Backs: T Stimpson (Newcastle), J Callard (Bath), C Catling (Gloucester), J Mallinder (Sale), N Beal (Northampton), A Adebayo (Bath), J Bentley (Newcastle), I Hunter (Northampton), J Naylor (Newcastle), D O'Leary (Harlequins), D Rees (Sale), J Sleightholme (Bath), T Underwood (Newcastle), J Guscott (Bath), P De Glanville (Bath), M Allen (Northampton), J Baxendell (Sale), A Blyth (Northampton), N Greenstock (Wasps), W Greenwood (Leicester), D Luger (Harlequins), P Mensah (Harlequins), M Perry (Bath), M Catt (Bath), M Mapletoft (Gloucester), P Grayson (Northampton), A King (Wasps), R Liley (Harlequins), A Healey (Leicester), K Bracken (Saracens), M Dawson (Northampton), A Gomersall (Wasps), S Benton (Gloucester).

Forwards: G Rowntree (Leicester), J Leonard (Harlequins), D Garforth (Leicester), D Crompton (Richmond), W Green (Wasps), R Hardwick (Coventry), M Volland (Northampton), K Yates (Bath), J Mallett (Bath), V Ubogu (Bath), M Regan (Bath), R Cockerill (Leicester), S Mitchell (Wasps), P Greening (Gloucester), D West (Leicester), S Diamond (Sale), G French (Bath), G Archer (Newcastle), D Baldwin (Sale), M Bayfield (Northampton), J Fowler (Sale), R Fidler (Gloucester), M Haag (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), C Murphy (Sale), N Redman (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), D Sims (Gloucester), R West (Richmond), D Grewcock (Saracens), T Rodber (Northampton), L Dallaglio (Wasps), B Clarke (Richmond), A Diprose (Saracens), C Sheasby (Wasps), R Hill (Saracens), R Jenkins (Harlequins), S Ojomoh (Bath), W Davidson (Harlequins), M Corry (Leicester), M White (Wasps), P Scrivener (Wasps), N Back (Leicester), G Allison (Harlequins).