Rugby Union: Back in the England frame for World Cup: Hard lessons from South Africa

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WITHOUT fanfare, indeed without any advance notice, the England party for the World Cup was announced yesterday even though rugby's great gathering in South Africa is still 10 months away.

Hence the provisional tag attached to the 17 forwards and 17 backs who comprise the squad, and though the vast majority come from those who recently toured South Africa, the selection is more interesting for the players who are appended, among them the urgently needed Jeremy Guscott.

And also Neil Back. Having discovered that speed over the hard South African ground is of considerable use, the selectors now favour Back in addition to the back- row behemoths who made the tour. And having doubted that he could act on hard going this year, they have slipped in John Hall with a view to the same playing conditions next year.

Not that the squad is set in stone, but it was deemed necessary to make a choice now for the fitness weekend at Bath University from 2-4 September. This launches a World Cup season that continues for England with Twickenham internationals against Romania in November and Canada in December.

Stuart Barnes, the Bath stand- off who has come to prefer writing about rugby to playing it, the wing Adedayo Adebayo, the scrum-half Steve Bates and the lock Matthew Poole are the discards from South Africa. Barnes peremptorily retired as soon as the tour was over, but the absence - anticipated as it may have been - of the other three makes you wonder why they were there in the first place.

At scrum-half, Kyran Bracken and Matthew Dawson are included in place of Bates. With Bracken unavailable to tour, it would surely have made more sense to give Dawson the benefit of the experience.

The perfect science of hindsight also reveals that the 6ft 9in Simon Shaw, included as one of the locks in this squad, should have been on the tour from the beginning rather than as a mid-term replacement for Martin Johnson.

ENGLAND (provisional World Cup squad): Full-backs: J Callard (Bath), P Hull (Bristol), I Hunter (Northampton), D Pears (Harlequins). Wings: N Beal (Northampton), D Hopley (Wasps), R Underwood (Leicester), T Underwood (Leicester). Centres: W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath), J Guscott (Bath), S Potter (Leicester). Outside-halves: R Andrew (Wasps), M Catt (Bath). Scrum- halves: K Bracken (Bristol), M Dawson (Northampton), D Morris (Orrell). Props: J Leonard (Harlequins), J Mallett (Bath), G Rowntree (Leicester), V Ubogu (Bath). Hookers: G Dawe (Bath), B Moore (Harlequins). Locks: M Bayfield (Northampton), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), S Shaw (Bristol). Back row: N Back (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps), J Hall (Bath), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton).

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