Rowell must keep faith

Chris Rea says England should play Ireland with a side fit to face the world
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The Independent Online
Rugby tactics are so dependent upon weather conditions that it remains a mystery in this age of squad preparation why teams are not selected on the morning of the match. But on Tuesday England announce their side to play Ireland in Dublin on Satur day week.

One certainty is that Dublin in January will bear no resemblance whatsoever to Johannesburg in June. Nevertheless, most expect that Jack Rowell's first selection of the new year, in which a World Cup final victory is the ultimate goal, will be the closest indication yet of the style England intend to adopt in South Africa this summer.

If that is the case, barring any further accidents and assuming that the injuries to Jason Leonard, Victor Ubogu and Paul Hull have cleared up in time, there would seem no obvious reason to change the side that was originally selected for the match against Canada. We all know that England don't have a Utopian blend in the back row, but most other countries would happily trade six of their hospitality boxes for three players of the calibre of Rodber, Richards and Clarke. At scrum-half, Kyran B racken canexpect to continue in place of Dewi Morris and Hull, despite Mike Catt's exceptional performance as his replacement in the Canada game, would have every reason to feel aggrieved were he to lose his place at full-back.

Since that day, Rowell has made it fairly obvious that he sees Catt's international future as a full-back. That may be true in the long-term, but for Hull to lose his place after his almost unblemished South African tour last summer would be harsh in theextreme. It may be that Rowell's generous praise of Catt is no more than a reminder to Hull that he cannot afford an off-day against Ireland.

Rowell enjoys such psychological games, believing that if his players cannot stand the heat there is no place for them in Jack's kitchen, and that if they are ill-equipped for the big occasion it is much better to discover any problems now than in the final of the World Cup.

On the subject of psychological cut and thrust, and more particularly its timing, what are we to make of Morris's announcement last week that he is resigning from his job to concentrate on rugby? Is it because he has been omitted from the side to play Ireland and therefore feels the need to redouble his efforts, or is it because he is so certain of his place through to the World Cup that he considers such an action to be a risk worth taking?

If it is a case of horses for courses, then Morris would probably be a better bet against the Irish. Against that, if England are intent on entering the new age of high-risk rugby inspired by the agile mind and nimble hands of Bracken, there could be no better place to test themselves than in the claustrophobic and intimidating atmosphere of Lansdowne Road.

PROBABLE TEAM: P Hull (Bristol); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath).

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