Guscott on wing as England have to reshuffle

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The Independent Online
Jack Rowell is not the sort of man to wish injury on his worst enemy, let alone members of his own rugby team. But the England coach is enough of an opportunist to subscribe at least occasionally to the silver lining theory of selection, hence his decision to recall Jeremy Guscott to national colours against Argentina at Twickenham this weekend.

After winning 45 caps as a centre, Guscott replaces his concussed Bath club-mate Adedayo Adebayo on the left wing. Phil de Glanville and Will Carling continue their partnership in the England midfield and Rowell, acutely aware that he will have to perm two centres from three sooner or later, can rest easily in bed until the next crunch selection meeting at the end of January.

"We'll bite the bullet when it needs to be bitten," he said, tacitly admitting that if all three midfield contenders are fit and well going into the Five Nations opener against Scotland on 1 February, he would find it easier to pick a winning line on the lottery. While Guscott is not a complete stranger to the No 11 shirt - he made two Cup final appearances on the left wing as a replacement in the mid-1980s - it is the best part of a decade since he wore it in anger.

He remains England's most naturally gifted attacking centre, and for the moment, at least, his new role can only be seen as a one-off.

Last weekend's mini- outbreak of concussion also accounted for Tim Stimpson. The new England full-back was stretchered from Twickenham after tackling David Campese during the Barbarians' match with the touring Australians. Like Adebayo, he must now sit on the sidelines for a mandatory three-week rest period. Nick Beal, 26 last week, wins a first cap in his place.

"Nick has been playing extremely well for Northampton," said Rowell, who took advice from Ian McGeechan, the Midlanders' coach, before plumping for Beal ahead of the more experienced Jon Callard.

"He has suffered in the past from being bounced around from position to position, but he's settled down now and I think he offers an all-round fullback's game as well as a strike option from the back."

Beal will be the eighth player capped by Rowell in the space of four weeks. The remainder of this season's new boys - first-choices Andy Gomarsall, Simon Shaw and Chris Sheasby and the two front-row replacements Rob Hardwick and Phil Greening - stay in place.

Guscott was only told of Rowell's decision yesterday morning as he arrived at Bisham Abbey for a weights session. "I'm speechless for once," he said. "The only thing I'm sure about is that I'll be more nervous for this match than any other England game I've ever played.

"I'll approach things in the same way as I'm approaching all my rugby this season - looking for enjoyment, letting things happen without thinking too much about it in advance - but I'm fully aware that I've got a lot to learn about the wing position.

"Having said that, I'm keen to make the most of the extra space and freedom a wing tends to get. When all is said and done, I'm just happy to be in the side; spending two games on the bench has given me a new perspective on things," Guscott added.

Rowell went out of his way yesterday to support De Glanville's captaincy after a weekend of sharp criticism in sections of the media. "Give him a chance," he said. "We're changing the side at the same time as we're trying to change the way we play, and Phil is a central figure in a very difficult balancing act.

"My information is that he played outstandingly for Bath against Harlequins on Saturday; if anyone asks whether I am still convinced he is worth his place in the side, I can only say to them that he is still there on the teamsheet and will be as long as his form and fitness lasts. That is the same for every player."

ENGLAND (v Argentina, Twickenham, Saturday): N Beal (Northampton); J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), J Guscott (Bath); M Catt (Bath), A Gomarsall (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), S Shaw (Bristol), M Johnson (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), C Sheasby (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: J Callard (Bath), A King (Wasps), K Bracken (Saracens), R Hardwick (Coventry), P Greening (Gloucester), B Clarke (Richmond).