Richards brings a cheer to England

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The Independent Online
England needed some glad tidings to raise their spirits after the intense disappointment of their first two World Cup performances and they got it yesterday when their doctor pronounced that Dean Richards' injured hamstring would be healed in time for the quarter-final.

This did nothing to abate the swirl of rumour that the Leicester No 8 could be about to give up the tournament as a bad job and leave for home and family, having already sat out the first two games and nearly every training session. But if that were the case, and John Hall were about to summoned from Bath in his stead, the management have been acting with elaborate and utterly pointless bad faith.

Unfortunately for the reputation of English forward play, the quarter- final will not take place until next weekend. Although Richards might even be ready to face Western Samoa in England's third Group B match at King's Park on Sunday, it is hard to imagine the management jeopardising his later involvement when they are already in the last eight.

On the other hand, it would be a risk of another kind to throw Richards straight in against South Africa or, more likely, Australia when he had not played any rugby for six weeks. Despite the fact that England's rugby on the firm going of South Africa is supposed to be built on high mobility and dynamic athleticism, their flawed shows in beating Argentina and Italy have exposed their need of him.

"With Dean we have taken it slowly," Dr Terry Crystal said yesterday after the players had got over the night before against the Italians with a gymnasium work-out. "He is improving by the day but the thing is to stop him doing too much, because if he tries to he has a problem.

"He had a setback last week and it has taken longer than we thought. There was pressure to get him fit for a game but we've taken him out of that. He trained too much and it flared up. I wouldn't guarantee anything but we would be confident he would be fit for the quarter-final."

Had Richards rested as soon as England arrived in Durban he would have been playing by now, but the problem was exacerbated when he broke down in both of the first two big practices. If it happened again he would definitely be out of the tournament, and while England have been preparing for the Argentinians and Italians he has been a strangely peripheral figure.

Jack Rowell, the manager, yesterday decided to delay until this evening - as late as he is allowed - his selection for the Samoa match, of which the result may be unimportant other than in psychological terms, but in which England's first decent performance of the World Cup has now become a requirement rather than an optional extra.

There are other injury concerns, less serious than Richards, for Rowell's consideration, as well as the general issue of how many and whom to rest. Will Carling, the England captain, has recovered well enough from his ankle injury to be able to replace Jeremy Guscott, who suffered a dead leg against Italy and could probably do with the rest whether or not he was fit.

"We are still caught up in a catch-22 between winning games and resting players," Rowell said. Rob Andrew wants to play although he too has a dead leg, and Crystal said that England's third minor casualty on Wednesday, Rory Underwood, would also probably be fit if required.

Injuries are more acute for the Samoans, whose place-kicker and play- maker Darren Kellett is out of the World Cup after dislocating a shoulder at the end of Tuesday's win over Argentina. He will have to be replaced at outside-half against England by the uncapped Fata Sini. The further participation of two back-row forwards, Junior Paramore and Shem Tatupu, is also in doubt and Sam Kaleta has been summoned from Auckland as stand- by.

As England have an antipathy to referees from France and the southern hemisphere, they will not be best pleased by the appointment of the Frenchman Patrick Robin to the Samoa game. Scotland's Group D decider against France in Pretoria tomorrow has been awarded to Wayne Erickson of Australia, with Ian Rogers of South Africa in charge of Ireland v Wales in Johannesburg to determine the Group C runners-up.

Samoans fear future, page 38