England's captain kept secret

RUGBY UNION: Rowell finally gets his preparations under way but maintains mystery over his choice of leader
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The Independent Online
Jack Rowell has decided who the next England captain is to be in succession to Will Carling, but neither the player nor the Rugby Football Union has been informed.

The England coach, who revealed that he and the rest of his management team had decided the captaincy issue a week ago, explained yet another bizarre turn of events in the crazy world of rugby union by saying: "We have selected a captain and as soon as the conflict between English Professional Rugby Union Clubs and the RFU is resolved I will name him.

"Until then only the England management know the player's identity," Rowell added. "I have not told the player and it has not yet been cleared with the rugby union, nor indeed with the president, John Richardson, himself. I feel it would be invidious to appoint this man at the moment. I feel he may possibly get caught up in some crossfire and that would not do English rugby any good. I would not like a future captain to be caught up in it. I just hope the differences between Epruc and the RFU can be resolved as quickly as possible for the good of the game."

Rowell's heartfelt desire may well come true following publication of a leaked letter from the RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, to the Epruc chairman, Donald Kerr, that Twickenham is proposing a series of payments to the clubs. These would include 10 per cent of all gate revenue from international matches at Twickenham plus an annual sum of around pounds 500,000 as well as a one-off payment of pounds 50,000 to help in the cost of setting up Epruc administratively.

Hallett sent the letter with the full knowledge of the RFU committee and such a concession by Twickenham, provided Epruc are satisfied, should ensure a speedy conclusion to a wrangle that has dragged on since the winter and has unfortunately embroiled the England players. They reluctantly boycotted the first of Rowell's squad sessions while the RFU were forced to cancel the second two weeks ago to avoid a confrontation with the players.

So it was no surprise yesterday to hear Rowell in upbeat mood. He said: "Today was very enjoyable. A very uplifting and refreshing day, including the attitude of the players. We are just relieved to be together."

One of the chief reasons for Rowell's happiness was that all 45 players turned up, even the half dozen or so who could not take part because of niggling injuries. These included Carling, who aggravated the Achilles tendon injury he suffered in his final appearance as England captain against Ireland last spring.

"It felt as though it might go at any time," said the Harlequins centre, "but it was great to be back with the squad."

Carling had been overlooked when the two previous squads were named as was Jeremy Guscott his England centre partner. Although Guscott began the 90-minute session, he was one of 15 players who were on the sidelines by the end of the work-out. Since Bath have dropped him for the trip to West Hartlepool on Saturday in favour of the rugby league recruit Henry Paul, Guscott should have plenty of time to recover.

Rowell did express a certain amount of anxiety since England's first international against Italy is looming less than two months away on 23 November. Rowell said: "It has become a case of `catch-up' on training. There is a lot of work to be done in a very short time."

The England coach said he might draft in more players for his next squad get-together on 9 October to ensure he has enough bodies remaining.

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