No place for Burrow after Smith wields the axe

England coach jettisons seven of the backline that struggled in the World Cup
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The Independent Online

The England coach, Tony Smith, has swung the axe with gusto, chopping an entire World Cup backline from his plans for this autumn's Four Nations.

Smith's 24-man squad for the tournament, which begins in 11 days, omits players who filled the first seven shirts on the changing room hooks in Australia less than a year ago. Some omissions are entirely predictable. Mark Calderwood can hardly have expected a phone call, while more established players like Ade Gardner and Leon Pryce are short of current form.

But Leeds' scrum-half, Rob Burrow, a vital part of their title-winning side, is entitled to ask what he has done wrong. The only logical answer to that is that he has been overtaken by a tempting crop of young half-back talent, with Richie Myler, Sam Tomkins and Kyle Eastmond all included in the squad and all, at 20, seven years younger than their predecessor.

"They're a good bunch," said Smith. "Typical confident, cheeky half-backs, but pretty grounded young men as well. I'm looking forward to working with them."

Smith has resisted the temptation to try to talk the 34-year-old Keith Senior out of international retirement and there is some frost between the two following last year's World Cup. "I haven't heard a thing from Keith and I don't think that going through the press is a good way to communicate," Smith said.

That denies him the most effective English-qualified centre of the season, but he has decided to go instead with two surprising options. He has included Senior's Leeds team-mate, Lee Smith, even though he becomes a rugby union player with Wasps at the end of November. His selection is therefore the most short-term of strategies, but one which Smith defended. "He is still contracted to play rugby league and, while he is available, I'm happy to work with him," he said. "He brings a lot of versatility to our outside backs."

Equally startling, albeit for a different reason, is the naming of Paul Sykes. He had a trying World Cup – against New Zealand he was little short of a disaster, and has hardly had a smooth or easy season with Bradford. But he is another who Smith sees as having the versatility to cover a number of problematic roles.

The same could be said of another shock inclusion, Warrington's utility back, Chris Bridge, who has impressed Smith since he took over as coach at the Wolves. He sees him primarily as a centre. "He has had a pretty solid year and he's a big, strong young man," Smith said.

England begin their Four Nations campaign against France at Doncaster a week on Saturday. Before that, there is a warm-up match against Wales in Bridgend this Saturday.

A separate squad has been named for that game, omitting the five Leeds players and the four from St Helens who played in this weekend's Grand Final. That creates opportunities for some longer-term international prospects like Hull's 19-year-old winger Tom Briscoe.

Dropped: England's former backline

*Paul Wellens: Saints stalwart, cruelly exposed for lack of pace in World Cup

*Ade Gardner: An error-prone season with St Helens

*Martin Gleeson: Established international who has found his form at Wigan a little too late

*Keith Senior: Waiting for an invitation to come out of international retirement that has never come

*Mark Calderwood: Injury-hit and lacklustre season in a struggling Hull side

*Leon Pryce: Paying the price for a whole year of languid form

*Rob Burrow: The surprise omission after a typically purposeful year for Leeds