Rowell shuffles pack in search of inspiration

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The Independent Online
After the flop against Argentina, England signalled a fundamental shift in their forward strategy yesterday when the management named a front row without Victor Ubogu and with Jason Leonard moved from loose- head prop to tight head. Rob Andrew will lead the side against Italy at King's Park tomorrow in the absence of the injured Will Carling.

With Graham Rowntree introduced in Leonard's place, Jack Rowell has the front row that he wanted to try out in one or other of England's pre-Christmas internationals against Romania and Canada. Then, the manager thought better of it and did not take a chance in the subsequent Five Nations' Championship.

Leonard's reluctance to make the switch did not prevent a sterling contribution when the Lions forced him into it during their tour of New Zealand in 1993 and even the usually cagey Rowell was prepared to hazard that this might well turn out to be England's best front row.

Also at issue is the make-up of England's best back row and with Dean Richards's hamstring injury taking too long to heal the previous policy of keeping Ben Clarke as open-side flanker in all circumstances has already been abandoned. Neil Back, who gave England fleeting periods of continuity when he twice temporarily replaced the bloodied Steve Ojomoh last Saturday, wins his fourth cap, with Clarke reverting to No 8.

English changes are completed by the restoration of Kyran Bracken at scrum-half, though Rowell's tribute to Dewi Morris's performance against the Pumas indicates the Orrell man remains his first choice. The biggest loser in yesterday's selection was Ubogu, who was damned with faint praise when Rowell noted that he had scrummaged well on England's put-in.

The implication was that he had not done so at Argentine scrums, quite apart from which the physical punishment involved in scrummaging against the formidable Puma front row took such a toll that the forthright contribution Ubogu is supposed to make in loose play - the very reason for his inclusion - never happened.

And though Rowntree will tighten the scrum, his outstanding contribution to Leicester's league title showed him to be no slouch in the loose either. His one and only previous cap was as a replacement for the final 11 minutes of the England-Scotland match in March.

The choice to face Italy leaves eight of the squad of 26 without a game and if they do not play against Western Samoa on Sunday it can be safely assumed they will not - barring injuries - play at all. "Some players anticipated not playing during the World Cup and, quite honestly, I anticipated being one of them," Rowntree said. "Jack is a fairly conservative guy coming to selection."

Richards' injury, meanwhile, is reaching the stage where the management are being asked at what point he will have to be sent home, Rowell responding that he had not thought about it. "If it drags on, I'm sure he wouldn't want to hang on," the manager said. "But as far as we are concerned he should be fit to play against Western Samoa."

Carling's ankle has taken such a turn for the better that he is confident of being fit for that match. Less contented is Carlo Checchinato, the Italian No 8, who tried to play with a hamstring injury against the Samoans and is out of the World Cup.

Indeed, if England think they have problems after their fortuitous defeat of Argentina, they are nothing compared with how Georges Coste, Italy's highly demonstrative French coach, tells it after the 42-18 hiding they took from the Samoans last Saturday. He has made five changes of player and two of position in his team against England. "It's a cultural problem," Coste said. "You just can't get into their heads. They don't need a coach; they need a psychiatrist."

ENGLAND (v Italy, Durban, tomorrow): M Catt (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), P de Glanville, J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps, capt), K Bracken (Bristol); G Rowntree (Leicester), B Moore, J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke (Bath), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: J Callard (Bath), D Hopley (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell), J Mallett, G Dawe, S Ojomoh (Bath).

ITALY: L Troiani (L'Aquila); P Vaccari (Milan), I Francescato (Treviso), S Bordon (Rovigo), M Gerosa (Piacenza); D Dominguez, A Troncon; Massimo Cuttitta (Milan, capt), C Orlandi (Piacenza), F Properzi-Curti, P Pedroni (Milan), M Giacheri (Treviso), A Sgorlon (San Dona), J Gardner (Roma), O Arancio (Catania). Replacements: Marcello Cuttitta (Milan), F Mazzariol (Treviso), M Dal Sie (Son Dona), M Trevisiol, R Favaro (Treviso), M Capuzzoni (Milan).