Rugby Union: Barnes debate to re-open following England's defeat

Click to follow
ENGLAND are today finally facing up to a future without the warhorses of their golden era after the 10-9 defeat by Wales at Cardiff Arms Park which ended their march towards a record third consecutive Grand Slam.

As the next match, against Scotand at Twickenham, is not for another month the selectors effectively have three weeks in which to decide whether to regard the Welsh win as a one-off setback or as evidence that for the rest of the Five Nations' Championship it would be better to make the changes that would have to be made next season in any event.

Because of their loyalty to so many of those who have seen them to unprecedented success, and because of the determination of many of the players to carry on at an age when most of their predecessors would already have finished, Geoff Cooke and company will sometime have to make more sweeping changes than they would otherwise have wished to contemplate.

'When the emotion dies down and you look at it clinically, we have two more games to play in this championship and lots of things ahead of us,' Cooke, the England manager, said. 'We will go on. Life doesn't stop. We have lost a game of rugby.' Even so, it will not be the same as chasing a triple Grand Slam.

If ever there was a convenient time to change, this is it. The absence of older stagers such as Underwood, Andrew, Probyn, Dooley, Teague and Winterbottom would create an unfillable void. But everything Cooke has ever said has indicated his extreme distaste for change.

Still, the selectors have already seen Martin Johnson's international potential when he played against France instead of the injured Wade Dooley and, bearing in mind that the 1995 World Cup rather than the Grand Slam is now the goal, a 22-year-old rather than 35-year-old lock sounds attractive.

On the other hand, the pack won more than enough ball in Cardiff, so the selection focus may rather be on the backs, with Rob Andrew's role under scrutiny after England's failure to penetrate Welsh defences on Saturday.

The pressure from Stuart Barnes has never been greater, but again it will depend on how much significance Cooke reads into a defeat which was actually within inches of being a 20-point victory. If that had happened, there would have been none of the post-match frenzy of speculation.

Ian Hunter, victim of a Welsh stamping which damaged an eye but was deemed by the referee to warrant no more than the reversal of a penalty initially awarded to Wales, had an operation under local anaesthetic at the University Hospital of Wales on Saturday night to repair a damaged tear duct. Although Hunter stayed in hospital overnight, the injury is not serious and he will be fit to play again for Northampton in a fortnight.

Ireland will introduce two new caps, including the prop Australia blamed for starting all the trouble when they played Munster in October, against France in Dublin on 20 February.

The team announced yesterday showed four changes from the one beaten 15-3 by Scotland last month and a vacancy is left at No 8 in the hope that Brian Robinson will prove his fitness.

With Steve Smith injured, Terry Kingston returns at hooker. Neil Francis, who has made just two comeback appearances for his club after recovering from a back injury, is a contentious choice at lock. Ciaran Clarke displaces Colin Wilkinson - like the lock Richard Costello, a one-cap wonder - at full-back.

Paul McCarthy is the prop making way for the combative Limerickman Peter Clohessy, who may have question-marks about his temperament but was the popular choice of everyone with an opinion (which meant everyone) at the recent Garryowen-Constitution game - in Limerick.

IRELAND (v France, Dublin, 20 February): C Clarke (Terenure College); S Geoghegan (London Irish), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher, R Wallace (Garryowen); N Malone (London Irish), M Bradley (Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), N Francis (Blackrock College), P Johns (Dungannon), D McBride (Malone), A N Other, P Lawlor (Bective Rangers). Replacements: B Glennon, E Elwood (Lansdowne), R Saunders (London Irish), M Galwey (Shannon), P McCarthy (Constitution), J Murphy (Greystones).

Davies cool on revival,

Ken Jones, page 24