Larder leaves the door open

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The Independent Online
The England coach, Phil Larder, has made one change in his side to face Australia in the final of the Halifax Centenary World Cup at Wembley tomorrow, but he has left a place on the bench open for the recovering pneumonia victim, Gary Connolly.

The Wigan centre, Barrie-Jon Mather, who played there in the tournament opener, is recalled in place of Keighley's Nick Pinkney, who was preferred for the semi-final against Wales.

"I put B-J on the bench for that match because Nick had played so well against South Africa," Larder said. "But I was a bit disappointed last week that Nick didn't get the ball enough and didn't go looking for it. B-J's defence is stronger, but if I felt that Nick was strong and confident enough to go and get the ball at this level, he would be in."

Still in with a stubborn, lingering chance of being in that 17 is Connolly, Mather's Wigan team-mate, ruled out of any involvement in the World Cup before it even began by a chest specialist. Larder has refused to give up hope that as strong and determined an athlete as Connolly could have defied the odds and accordingly named only two substitutes, forwards Mick Cassidy and Chris Joynt.

The decision on who will fill the other two vacancies will be left as late as possible and will be made then on what Larder calls "gut feeling". It could, he says, be a matter of "how much colour he has in his cheeks".

Once niggling injuries to Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell had responded to treatment, the rest of the team picked itself, although Farrell's groin strain is still causing enough concern for Bobbie Goulding to be given the goal-kicking duties.

Larder has studiously kept himself and his team out of the controversy generated by his Australian counterpart Bob Fulton's fury over the refereeing of their semi-final against New Zealand. Fulton faces an International Board inquiry over remarks he is alleged to have made to the tournament referees' director, Greg McAllum.

"That's the way Bob Fulton operates," Larder said. "He has always been a coach that has tried to put referees under as much pressure as possible.

"We don't mind who the referee is, because we have never come across a bent official. They are all doing their best. They have their little idiosyncrasies, but you have to be smart enough to adapt to them. We have concentrated on our own preparation and we are ready. There has never been a better time for us to play Australia."

ENGLAND (v Australia, Halifax Centenary World Cup final, Wembley, tomorrow): Radlinski (Wigan); Robinson (Wigan), Mather (Wigan), Newlove (Bradford Bulls), Offiah (Wigan); Smith (Castleford), Goulding (St Helens); Harrison (Halifax), Jackson (Newcastle Knights), Platt (Auckland Warriors), Betts (Auckland Warriors, capt), Clarke (Sydney City Roosters), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Cassidy (Wigan), Joynt (St Helens) plus two to be named.