Rugby Union: Catt culled for England's Irish test

Rugby Union: Bath outside-half among the casualties as Woodward brings back Perry, Grayson and Bracken
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The Independent Online
YOU KNOW where you stand with Clive Woodward, which is more than can be said for one or two previous inhabitants of the England hot seat - or the England electric chair, as it will quickly be renamed if the red roses wilt in the thunderclap atmosphere of Lansdowne Road on Saturday. Show the national coach an underachieving side and he will show those responsible the exit door, hence his decision to make three highly significant changes to the spine of his team for this weekend's hazardous Five Nations outing here.

Matt Perry reclaims the full-back position from Nick Beal, Paul Grayson returns at outside-half for Mike Catt and Kyran Bracken eases Matt Dawson out of the scrum-half berth. In the light of England's scrappy, stop-start and wholly unsatisfying Calcutta Cup victory at Twickenham almost a fortnight ago, it was impossible to argue with Woodward on any count. Both Beal and Dawson were way below par against the Scots - the word "ponderous" sprang irresistibly to mind - while Catt appeared unable to decide whether he was chronically indecisive or simply unsure of himself.

"I thought they all deserved another run after the win over South Africa in December, but I haven't come here to Ireland to mess about," said Woodward yesterday as he explained his thinking amid the baronial surroundings of Fitzpatrick Castle (not Sean Fitzpatrick, thank God) in Killiney. "We're not experimenting or trying people out; we're past that stage now. We're here to win a rugby match, pure and simple, and this is the team that gives us the best chance of achieving that objective."

Perry's recall, in particular, gives the English defence increased strength and substance. While the traditional Lansdowne Road aerial bombardment has fatally undermined more than enough fledgling international careers down the years to justify its reputation as the "full-back's graveyard", the quietly assured 22-year-old from Bath has already experienced the worst this game can throw at him - a rampaging Jonah Lomu and a Cape Town monsoon - and emerged with a smile on his face. "He's in on merit," pronounced Woodward, who may now be asking himself why he dropped his favourite No 15 in the first place.

Like the good lawyer he will one day become, Bracken constructed an unanswerable case for his own inclusion; there is only ever one best scrum-half in Europe and if he happens to be English, it would be criminally negligent as well as plain daft to leave him kicking his heels among the replacements. Grayson, however, is an intriguing choice, especially as Jonny Wilkinson's nerveless goal-kicking appears to relieve the Northampton stand-off of his raison d'etre. "Jonny will continue as No 1 kicker after his excellent performance against the Scots," confirmed the coach.

Although Woodward did not explicitly say so, he sees Grayson as the horse for this particular course and, by the same yardstick, considers it far safer to leave the unpredictable Catt munching hay in the stable. "You need a controller when you play Ireland - a general, a reader of the game - and Paul is all of those things," he said. "I have no doubt that this will be the hardest test of our Five Nations campaign; you know all about it when you play at Lansdowne Road and I think we could have predicted at the start of the season how Ireland will approach this weekend's match. We will need to be disciplined, in every sense of the word. That is what Paul brings to the equation."

As expected, the forward personnel remain more or less in place. Woodward has restricted himself to some mild tinkering, which will result in Richard Hill taking on a more traditional flanker's role and Lawrence Dallaglio calling 99 per cent of the shots from No 8.

"I don't think some of our decision-making was all it might have been against Scotland and if I'm going to take the responsibility for that aspect of our game, it's best that I play in the optimum decision-maker's position," explained Dallaglio. "Mind you, we're the same back-row unit, with the same ability to change our shape if the circumstances arise."

The Irish were forced into a change yesterday when Jonathan Bell, their inside centre from Dungannon, failed to respond sufficiently rapidly to treatment on the "dead" leg he collected during last weekend's club game against Old Belvedere. There will be no great celebrations in the England camp, however: if Bell tackles like the proverbial ton of bricks, his replacement, Rob Henderson, does something very similar with added Kryptonite. And besides, the Wasps centre is currently boasting the most dazzling peroxide hair-do imaginable, so if he fails to cripple his opponents with his big hits, he has every chance of blinding them instead.

n The Edinburgh Reivers scrum-half Iain Fairley will win his first Test cap for Scotland against Italy on Saturday after being promoted from the bench to replace the injured captain, Gary Armstrong.

The Newcastle Falcon, who led the side in the opening two Five Nations matches against Wales and England, is, however, optimistic of being fit for the visit of Ireland to Murrayfield on 20 March. In his absence, Bath's Eric Peters will captain Scotland for the first time on the occasion of his 28th cap.

Scotland, France and England A squads, Digest, page 27

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