Lomu encounter costs Underwood his place

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The cost for Tony Underwood of failing to solve the insoluble problem of Jonah Lomu was not only the indignity of the New Zealander's four tries in the World Cup semi-final. It is also his place in the England side, which for tomorrow's third-place match against France at Loftus Versfeld has gone to Ian Hunter.

Dean Richards has a shoulder injury that we now know he attempted to carry through the All Black experience, and his place at No 8 goes to Steve Ojomoh. Otherwise England are as they were in that 45-29 defeat and even Underwood's absence from the right wing is, so Jack Rowell said yesterday, a resting rather than a dropping.

The one is often a euphemism for the other but the manager offered so long a string of complimentary remarks about the younger Underwood after the team announcement that there is no reason to disbelieve him. "We believe he needs a rest after a very challenging match physically and mentally last Sunday," Rowell said.

"We have thought about every position, but this World Cup is a campaign on its own. Changes need to be evolutionary and not revolutionary. We decided against making further changes because we are not in a "thank you" environment in giving the fringe players a match. A lot depends on this game.

"Tony Underwood remains the best right wing in England. He has 20 caps and will probably double that. This game coming so soon after the other, the rest will do him good but if there had been a game coming after this one he would undoubtedly have played in that. I think he is going to be one of the all-time great England right wings."

The player himself appeared far from traumatised by his Lomu misadventure when he returned from yesterday's private training session. (England no longer bother to practise in public at all even now that they are contesting only the consolation prize of avoiding the qualification process for 1999.)

But he was disappointed, on the basis that if you fall off a bicycle the best thing is to get straight back on, not to have been given this immediate opportunity to redeem himself. "I would like to have played," he said. "But I am encouraged because Jack has been very reassuring about where I stand."

Instead the opportunity falls to Hunter, whose World Cup has consisted of an impressive appearance against Western Samoa, his seventh cap. "Obviously it's important for me as an individual but it's more important for the team to perform well after the rail-roading we got last Sunday," he said.

Pleased as he may be, wing is an awkward position for Hunter given that he prefers full-back, where he plays for Northampton and would welcome further consideration by England. But neither, after three years of constant injury interruptions, is he in a position to be choosy. "My goals on this tour were to perform well, train hard, keep free of injury and show I have the capability to play international rugby," he added.

France have made one more change than England, finally giving up on Christophe Deylaud by restoring the centre Franck Mesnel at outside-half, where he was preferred by France in the long-ago of the 1987 World Cup to Guy Laporte, now the manager. Mesnel's half-back partner then was Pierre Berbizier, now coach, and France went to the final.

Laurent Benezech for Louis Armary restores the front row who took France to victory in New Zealand last year and through last season's Five Nations, but the most compelling difference from the team beaten by South Africa in the semi-final is the debut given to the No 8, Albert Cigagna, at the ripe age of 33 in place of Marc Cecillon.

Cigagna has led Toulouse to seven French championship finals, five of which including last month's were won, and has for years been revered in France as the country's best uncapped player. He came to the World Cup when Philippe Benetton broke an arm, the bench in the quarter and semi-finals being the nearest Cigagna has been since Jacques Fouroux wanted to pick him as a hooker in 1989 and he refused.

ENGLAND (v France, Pretoria, tomorrow): M Catt (Bath); I Hunter (Northampton), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), S Ojomoh, B Clarke (Bath). Replacements: J Callard, P de Glanville (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe (Bath), N Back (Leicester).

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'Tamack (Toulouse), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); F Mesnel (Racing Club), F Galthie (Colomiers); L Benezech (Racing Club), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), A Cigagna (Toulouse), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: Y Delaigue (Toulon), C Deylaud (Toulouse), A Hueber (Toulon), P Gallart (Beziers), M de Rougemont (Toulon), O Brouzet (Grenoble).