Rugby Union: Catt back on the prowl

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The Independent Online
Sod's law dictates that selection alternatives always exist in the very areas in which they are least required. Jack Rowell, the England coach, yesterday named a squad of 27 for next weekend's Triple Crown match with Wales in Cardiff, tinkering with every section of his side except the one that is most obviously failing to click: half-back.

Rowell did not feel the need to expand his options at scrum-half because Austin Healey, a raw natural talent who has made such an impact at Leicester this season, is already in pole position for a full international debut at the Arms Park. If Healey gets his chance when the final line-up is announced on Tuesday, Andy Gomarsall will simply drop down to fill the gap on the replacements' bench.

The situation at stand-off is very different, however. Paul Grayson, the Northampton goalkicker whose game showed renewed signs of vulnerability when the French applied serious pressure during the second half of last Saturday's Five Nations match at Twickenham, is a doubtful starter against the Welsh because of a torn muscle in his hip and that mild calamity has left Rowell with depressingly little room to manouevre. Indeed, he has decided against reinforcing the outside-half presence in his squad, mainly because no one is kicking down the door.

Alex King, of Wasps, had troubles of his own in the A international with France a week ago while Gloucester's Mark Mapletoft is not considered ready to challenge for further honours. That leaves Rowell with Mike Catt and an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu; if Grayson fails to recover, the enigmatic Bath utility back will be back in the hot seat at a ground where England have had their fingers burned more often than anywhere else.

Although four forwards - John Mallett, Garath Archer, Tony Diprose and Neil Back - have been whistled up, none can expect to taste action in Cardiff; Back, the Leicester open-side flanker, has the best chance, thanks to Richard Hill's continuing ankle problems. The other newcomers are Will Greenwood, the Tigers centre, and Adedayo Adebayo, the Bath left-wing.

The Welsh, whose injury problems are considerably more acute, have named a 26-strong squad featuring three locks - Craig Quinnell, Mike Voyle and Paul Arnold - who all have legitimate hopes of replacing Mark Rowley in the engine room. Rowley pulled out this week after fracturing his left wrist while playing for Pontypridd.

Meanwhile, England whittled down their World Cup Sevens squad to 12 in preparation for the tournament in Hong Kong in a fortnight. Six players - Lawrence Dallaglio, Tim Rodber, Chris Sheasby, Dave Scully, Nick Beal and Adebayo - were in the victorious 1993 title-winning side, but one or more may lose out when Andrew Harriman, the team manager, names his final 10 on Sunday week.

ENGLAND PRELIMINARY SQUAD (v Wales, Cardiff, 15 March): Backs: T Stimpson (Newcastle), J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath), T Underwood (Newcastle), P Grayson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Wasps), J Guscott (Bath), M Catt (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), A Adebayo (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester). Forwards: G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Bristol), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), D Garforth (Leicester), P Greening (Gloucester), B Clarke (Richmond), A Diprose (Saracens), G Archer (Newcastle), J Mallett (Bath), N Back (Leicester). Team to be announced on Tuesday 11 March.

WALES SQUAD (v England, Cardiff 15 March 15): Backs: N Jenkins (Pontypridd), I Evans (Llanelli), G Thomas (Bridgend), W Proctor (Llanelli), A Bateman (Richmond), N Davies (Llanelli), S Gibbs (Swansea), J Davies (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff), P John (Pontypridd). Forwards: C Loader (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), L Mustoe (Cardiff), J Davies (Neath), S John (Llanelli), J Humphreys (Cardiff, capt), G Jenkins (Swansea), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), C Quinnell (Richmond), M Voyle (Llanelli), P Arnold (Swansea), S Williams (Neath), S Quinnell (Richmond), H Taylor (Cardiff), D McIntosh (Pontypridd), C Charvis (Cardiff).

Sevens squad, Digest