Rodber dropped as Richards earns recall

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Tim Rodber produced one of the few red-blooded contributions to England's anaemic performance in defeating Wales, yet the army officer was again called on to adopt a stiff upper lip last night when he was dropped for the second time this season.

The emotions of Garath Archer, the Bristol lock, are the precise opposite: he will win his first cap when England play Scotland at Murrayfield on 2 March. Out with Rodber goes his Northampton companion, Martin Bayfield, to accommodate the purportedly more aggressive Archer, with Dean Richards' recall punishing Rodber by entailing Ben Clarke's move from No 8 to the blind side.

Even at 6ft 6in Archer is a midget by comparison with the 6ft 10in Bayfield, but the selectors have evidently lost faith in the Northampton player's capacity to withstand line-out buffetings. After the chaos in this area when England lost in France, the renewed combination of Bayfield and Rodber as middle-jumper and support-man was supposed to have provided the solution against Wales, but Bayfield himself admitted that the English line-out was "appalling".

That said, Rodber appeared to have done enough penance for poor form when he was excluded from the French match and would be justified in now feeling hard done by. But the popular pressure to restore Richards in his time-honoured role as rock of stability has eventually proved irresistible even for Jack Rowell. The manager has not forgotten Richards' struggle to keep up when the tempo was sharply raised in last year's World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, and there is a useful message in this for the Scots.

Given Rowell's endless repetition of his desire for England to develop a freer-moving and faster-thinking type of rugby, his reversion to Richards is an implicit admission of failure. On the other hand, it is easily vindicable on the basis of this season's poor decision-making by Clarke as pack leader and No 8 as well as the specific circumstances of a Murrayfield international. Richards will win his 47th cap 10 years and a day since introducing himself with two tries against Ireland.

Bayfield and Rodber have not been assisted by Northampton's presence amid the mediocrity of the Second Division, though England's two other Saints, Matthew Dawson and Paul Grayson, have been reselected at half- back. In Grayson's case, in particular, there appeared to be far more pressure for change than in the forwards, but then Rowell did not have the luxury of being able to recall Rob Andrew as he has Richards.

Archer, 21 in December compared with Bayfield's 29, clearly represents and personifies a promising future but has only half a season in the First Division to his credit since joining Bristol from Newcastle. And whether he proves any more adept than his taller predecessor at hacking his way through the line-out jungle will depend at least as much on the protection he receives from Richards and Clarke as on his own endeavours.

He has played in all three of England A's victories over the past two months - over Western Samoa, France and New South Wales. "Garath has had an outstanding season for the A team, performing excellently in the line- out at that level and for Bristol," Rowell said. "We have chosen the side which gives us some options in beating Scotland in the line-out."

As England are not involved in this Saturday's Five Nations round, Rowell had initially intended leaving his selection until later, not withstanding his captain's suggestion last week that he would prefer the decisions to be made as early as possible. In the event it took four hours of debate before the squad trained in camera at Marlow last night to come up with this team.

ENGLAND (v Scotland, Murrayfield, 2 March): M Catt; J Sleightholme, J Guscott (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), 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 unchanged, page 31