Rowell forces England to run the risk

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The Independent Online
STEVE BALE

reports from Durban

England's selection last night for tomorrow's decisive Group B match against Western Samoa at King's Park was higher-risk than most of their rugby has been in South Africa, with the eight changes augmented by Mike Catt's move from full-back to stand-off.

Richard West will win his first cap and Graham Dawe his first for eight years, with Dean Richards finally being passed fit to appear for the first time in this World Cup. Urgently though England required Richards's organisational skills against Argentina and Italy, his inclusion now could equally well be based on an irresistible feeling that it is now or never for his suspect hamstring.

The idea is less to give everyone a game - although Damian Hopley and John Mallett are the only unfortunates not to have been selected during the pool stage - than to give the likes of Andrew, Bayfield, Rodber and Clarke a rest. In which case, pity poor Catt, Rory Underwood and Martin Johnson: they are the stalwart trio who will have played in all three.

However logical this policy may seem to the management, they are playing with fire by fielding a deliberately weakened team. But for the injuries which have deprived the Samoans of Darren Kellett and Junior Paramore, their two most influential players, England would be in serious danger of defeat. As it is, the potential for embarrassment is considerable.

Just as well, then, that they have already made it to the last eight, although there is not much to choose between a quarter-final against South Africa in Johannesburg - the likely prospect for tomorrow's losers - or Australia in Cape Town. Far more important is the psychological as well as physical damage the Samoans could inflict. "For England to lose would not be a good day for English rugby," Jack Rowell, the manager, said.

There was an obvious temptation for him to pick his strongest team now so that they could have a run together. But it will not be until the choice is made for the next match that Rowell will reveal his current thinking, which has evidently changed since England won the Five Nations' Championship.

The manager is giving away line-out height by capping West, but not much as the Gloucester lock stands 6ft 8in compared with Martin Bayfield's 6ft 10in. At 20st, West is nearly two stones heavier than England's regular middle-jumper and comfortably the heaviest in the squad.

He had no prospect of a World Cup place until February, when Simon Shaw suffered a bad knee injury playing for England A, and until he was picked last night did not dare believe he would be given a game here. "I always knew there was a chance I wouldn't get a cap on this trip," West said. "It was a shock to hear my name read out."

No more of a shock than it was for Dawe to hear his. Not since the scrum- half John Williams went from 1956 to 1965 without winning a cap has an England player had to wait this long, and there is added piquancy to Dawe's return created by the intensity of his rivalry with Brian Moore, who succeeded him into the team in 1987.

That he should now be about to win a fifth cap is a testament to extraordinary persistence and love of the game in continuing to make the 300-mile round trip from his farm on the Devon/Cornwall border in order to train and play for Bath even when his international aspirations appeared to be at an end.

The other changes restore more familiar England players. Will Carling's ankle injury has healed, and Richards and Victor Ubogu were important members with him of last season's Grand Slam team. Dewi Morris and Steve Ojomoh played for England before Christmas and even Jonathan Callard and Ian Hunter were in the side as recently as the 1994 Five Nations.

The change in Catt's position is as risky as any and Rowell conceded last night that everyone would feel much happier if Andrew were at outside- half, damning Catt with the faint praise that he had to play No10 sooner or later. Last season Bath gave up on him as their pivot and eventually, given Callard's presence at full-back, were happier with him as a centre.

But although this is scarcely the most menacing England team Rowell has ever chosen, defeat is not being contemplated - if only because the players' wives and girlfriends are in Cape Town for the next week, anticipating a quarter-final at Newlands. As Rowell put it: "If this team doesn't turn up in Cape Town, there will be a few words said." That sounds like powerful motivation.

World Cup focus; pages 46,47

ENGLAND v WESTERN SAMOA

at King's Park, Durban

J Callard Bath 15 M Umaga Wellington

I Hunter Northampton 14 B Lima Marist

W Carling Harlequins, capt 13 T Vaega Counties

P de Glanville Bath 12 T Fa'amasino Vaimoso

R Underwood Leicester 11 G Leaupepe Counties

M Catt Bath 10 E Puleitu Marist

D Morris Orrell 9 T Nu'uali'itia Auckland

G Rowntree Leicester 1 M Mika Otago

G Dawe Bath 2 T Leiasamaivo Moata'a

V Ubogu Bath 3 G Latu Vaimoso

M Johnson Leicester 4 D Williams Colomiers

R West Gloucester 5 L Falaniko Marist

S Ojomoh Bath 6 P Leavasa Apia

D Richards Leicester 8 P Lam Auckland, capt

N Back Leicester 7 S Tatupu Auckland

Referee: P Robin (France). Kick-off: 7.0 tomorrow (ITV).

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