No changes for 'happy' England

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The Independent Online
Rugby union: After lavishing such praise on the England players who deprived Scotland of the Grand Slam, Jack Rowell could scarcely do other than he did yesterday by reselecting them en bloc for the Triple Crown game against Ireland next Saturday.

By the English standards of this season this is precious stability, though the manager is bound to have had a contingency plan lest Jason Leonard's career as his country's most-capped prop had been interrupted by the disciplinary hearing on Wednesday that cleared him to play.

Only Leonard knows whether or not he really intended to take out Rob Wainwright, the Scotland captain, at Murrayfield last Saturday but the Scots are in no doubt and the unfortunate Wainwright is now taking the three-week break that is obligatory for those concussed.

Leonard will extend his personal record to 49 caps at Twickenham. The upshot of his citing - which was dealt with by Marcel Martin, of France, because the match commissioner, his compatriot Jacky Laurans, was unavailable and Martin was in London anyway - is twofold.

First, the Rugby Football Union, which has sometimes been known unilaterally to suspend its own players for foul play and indeed a couple of months ago was in correspondence with the French about Richard Dourthe after England played France, had better not claim any moral high ground. Second, we can be sure that opponents will henceforth be closely scrutinising matches for any undetected Scottish malfeasance.

Rowell's choice was directly related to the unchanged team's Murrayfield catharsis. "Everyone in the run-up to the game knew it was a happy experience," the manager said. "The English team played with great collective fervour against the odds and the group shouldn't be tampered with in any way. If there were any possibilities in any position, they were ignored."

No such luxury for Wales, whose Dublin misadventure has shattered the notion - which now looks more like pretension - that their improvement was such that it was only a matter of time before the breakthrough of a victory. Should France win in Cardiff next Saturday, it will be the first time the Welsh have been whitewashed in successive seasons.

Thus the team who had gone through three matches, all defeats, was yesterday changed in three aspects, most notably Neil Jenkins's recall instead of Arwel Thomas, who spent most of the Ireland match in a daze. Jenkins will exceed Cliff Morgan's record for a Welsh outside-half with a 30th cap in the position out of a total of 39.

"We need to cut out basic, unforced errors and show better control and decision-making," Kevin Bowring, the Wales coach, said - making a general point that could be applied specifically to Thomas. "We are creating lots of chances but we need a more physical edge to our game and quicker support from the forwards."

The "physical edge" will be provided not only by Jenkins but also by the Gareth Thomas, who has displaced Wayne Proctor on the left wing. As for the forwards, the return of Christian Loader at prop, who has been absent with a knee injury for most of the past four months, for his third cap in place of Andrew Lewis has more to do with trying to shore a suspect scrum than with "quicker support".

ENGLAND (v Ireland, Twickenham, 16 March): M Catt; J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson, M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Bristol), B Clarke (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: J Callard, P de Glanville (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), V Ubogu, G Dawe (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton).

WALES (v France, Cardiff, 16 March): J Thomas; I Evans (Llanelli), L Davies (Neath), N Davies (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bridgend); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Bridgend); C Loader (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), J Davies, G O Llewellyn (Neath), D Jones, E Lewis, H Taylor (Cardiff), G Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: W Proctor (Llanelli), A Thomas (Bristol), A Moore, L Mustoe (Cardiff), G Jenkins (Swansea), S Williams (Neath).