Problems ahead for fringe players

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The Independent Online
No sooner were England ensconced in South Africa yesterday after an 18- hour journey from London to a hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean (whose idyllic location belies how mean the streets of Durban have become since they were here on tour a year ago) than they began to face up to the most painful selection decisions they will shortly have to make.

It is a reasonable assumption that they would prefer to keep together the unchanged side who saw England to last season's Grand Slam for the first match against Argentina at King's Park a week tomorrow. It is what happens next, when they play Italy and Western Samoa, that will cause the real difficulty.

As with every World Cup, it is whom to leave out rather than whom to choose that causes the anxiety. If, for example, the selectors stick with Kyran Bracken as first-choice scrum-half it is possible that for the second World Cup in a row Dewi Morris will not play a game. Morris and David Pears were the only members of the 1991 squad to miss out altogether; the same fate had already befallen Jeff Probyn and Micky Skinner in 1987.

"We've got to stop and think," Rowell said. "We have some ideas which we need to talk about with the captain and the players. There are no easy games in this pool, so we can't say we will rest people for this game or that. You want to rest people but you want to win each game, and we need to see how they settle in." These remarks betray the dilemma in Rowell's mind caused by the standard of the Group B opposition, which though patently inferior to England's is sufficient to make all three rivals a reasonable threat.

Contrary to what Will Carling was saying a while ago, there is absolutely no question of taking it easy in any game. But there is also a question of maintaining morale among the whole squad of 26, and this would not be best served by the exclusion of individuals, however well-intentioned. "There is a balance to be struck between sentimentality and practicality in terms of the psychological mood in the camp," Brian Moore, the England pack leader, said. "If you have too many players who don't have a prospect of getting a game at all, it becomes difficult for them to keep on track and positive in the way Dewi and David did so well in '91."

In fact, Morris was quite resentful of his treatment then, particularly as other fringe players were given at least one game.

England had their first practice at King's Park last night and the Argentinians, the last of the World Cup participants to arrive, were made by their merciless coach, Alejandro Petra, to go out training within half an hour of getting to Durban last night.