Pack leaders: Chris Rea explains how the forwards are keeping England to the fore

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Ben Clarke (7)

Position: Open-side flanker

Aged 26, 6ft 5in, 17st

Club: Bath, 15 caps

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He says he prefers the No 8 position, but it was at open-side that he gave a series of outstanding performances for the Lions in New Zealand and it is in that position that he seems destined to remain unless there is a radical change in the selectors' thinking. Not the most abrasive of tacklers and still prone to mishandling, he remains a mighty presence in the back row. Ball retention skills have improved beyond recognition; has an increasing awareness of where his support players are. Apparent gaucheness in his movements should not detract from his effectiveness in the loose.

Jason Leonard (1)

Position: Loose-head prop

Aged 26, 5ft 10in, 17st 2lb

Club: Harlequins, 36 caps

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The rock on which the pack is built. Provides solid base for the scrummage and has developed into effective support player at the line- out. Critics complain he is not seen enough in the loose and lacks the all-round skills required of today's forwards but, despite decreasing importance of the scrummage as a destructive weapon, a stable platform is vital if the back row are to make an impact. Now established as one of the world's best loose-heads and, as he showed in Lions tour to New Zealand two years ago, can play with equal facility on the tight-head.

Brian Moore (2)

Position: Hooker

Aged 33, 5ft 9in, 14st 3lb

Club: Harlequins, 56 caps

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Mr Motivator. Now Europe's most capped hooker and although past his peak is comfortably out in front as England's No1 in the position. A ferocious competitor, he is also an inspirational leader of his forwards and a self-confessed master in psychological warfare - ask the French for verification. Has worked hard to control a fiery temper. At a time when the vogue is for weight and mass, Moore's longevity in the position has been due to almost fanatical determination to succeed. Good hands and positional awareness, but erratic in his throwing to the line-out.

Martin Bayfield (5)

Position: Lock

Aged 28, 6ft 10in, 18st 2lb

Club: Northampton, 20 caps

Policeman

,A key member of the pack. The neck injury he suffered with the Lions in New Zealand greatly impeded his progress. Paid penalty for returning to competitive rugby too quickly but his form for club and country this season has been of a consistently high quality. As the line-out beacon, he is the most vulnerable to the unwelcome attentions of his markers and therefore requires the support and accuracy of those around him, something he has not always received playing for England. Remarkably sprightly for one of his bulk he is no mean performer in the loose.

Victor Ubogu (3)

Position: Tight-head prop

Age: 30, 5ft 9in, 16st 2lb

Club: Bath, 13 caps

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Like Leonard he can prop on either side but has settled into the tight-head position and has greatly improved his scrummaging technique since moving to Bath. Lingering doubts about his abilities in the tight have largely been dispelled during the last year. A nomad in the loose, there have been times when, to the irritation of the backs, he has turned up at fly-half or centre. But this was as much the fault of the coaching as of the player himself, and this season his running in broken play has been more effectively directed and co-

ordinated.

Dean Richards (8)

Position: No8

Aged 31, 6ft 4in, 17st 8lb

Club: Leicester, 40 caps

Policeman

There can be no more reassuring sight than Dean Richards dragging his discordant limbs to those parts of the field younger, faster and sleeker models cannot reach. His positional sense is second to none. England's most capped No8, he has suffered from selection vagaries, but has treated both success and failure with unfailing good humour. Former England colleague Paul Ackford says that, although Richards' contribution to the games against Romania and Canada was minimal, his performances when it matters most are colossal. Enormous grappling strength, he is the rallying point for England's mauling game.

Martin Johnson (4)

Position: Lock

Aged 24, 6ft 7in, 17st 12lb

Club: Leicester, 10 caps

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Has crammed more into the last two seasons than most manage in a lifetime, having played for his club in a cup final, represented his country and toured New Zealand with the 1993 Lions. A forward of consummate skill, possessing agility and high quality ball skills essential for top- level line-out jumpers. Very much in the mould of the modern forward, having bulk allied to natural athleticism. Could be over-enthusiastic in his early days, but his international status and the self-confidence which has come from his position as England's first choice have improved his discipline.

Tim Rodber (6)

Position: Blind-side flanker

Aged 25, 6ft 6in, 16st 7lb

Club: Northampton, 12 caps

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So far the star of the show. Versatile enough to have played in all three back row positions and occasionally at lock, there is no doubt that Rodber has found his true home on the blind-side where the power of his tackling and the explosiveness of his running have been devastating. Has all the attributes to be one of the most influential forwards in the world game. Despite aberration in Port Elizabeth last summer he has outgrown the petulance of his youth. If there is a weakness it is his failure to dominate the line-out a player of his dimensions might.

THE common factor in all great packs is physical presence, but not so much in the sense of highest and heaviest. Colin Meads and Frik du Preez, two of the game's most commanding figures, were only 6ft 3in but were great slabs of men, hewn from the rock face, who seemed almost to block out the light. There have been more imposing line-out exponents than the Welsh pair, Allan Martin and Geoff Wheel, but few have been more effective.

One of the finest packs in the last 20 years was the French eight of the Seventies: Cholley, Paco, Paparemborde, Palmie, Imbernon, Skrela, Rives and Bastiat. Not only were they physically awesome but they possessed those two other components which separate the great from the good, experience and ball awareness.

Packs, like good wine, take time to mature, the one exception perhaps being Bill Beaumont's forwards who played in England's Grand Slam campaign of 1980. They were a tough bunch who came together more by accident than design and then broke up almost immediately after their success. This is unlikely to happen to the present England pack, which has been painstakingly built since the last World Cup and will lose, at most, two members after South Africa.

They have the necessary base of experience with Martin Johnson, now in his second season but having already come through the fires of a Lions tour in New Zealand, still the least experienced member. Both locks are comfortable with the ball in their hands as are all three members of the front row and, if Ben Clarke does not yet entirely exude confidence in the giving and taking of a pass, he has worked hard to improve those parts of his game.

England's scrummage, which does not appear threatening, has the unnerving knack of finishing on top. Their line-out must appear to opposition throwers as an impenetrable forest, their problems against France last Saturday being technical rather than physical. Peter Wheeler, one of the most accurate suppliers to the line-out, recalls that there were days when co-ordination between thrower and jumper broke down completely and without lengthy discussion and subsequent hard practice there was nothing that could be done about it. If England fail again in this area against Wales on Saturday then perhaps there will be more cause for concern.

England's preference for three big men in the back row may not always be poetry in motion, yet for the moment it is irresistible. But how adaptable is it? Only when we know the answer to that question will we really know how good this England pack is.

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