Rugby Union: Catt in for England as Andrew answers call

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The Independent Online
Saint Jack the Evangelist, high priest of 21st century "inter- active rugby", turned turtle in dramatic fashion yesterday and reinvented himself as a born-again pragmatist by recalling Rob Andrew to England colours at the age of 34. Quite what coach Rowell's extraordinary decision might do for his side's chances of beating Wales in Cardiff, on Saturday, was rather less clear than the effect it was likely to have on young Alex King.

Andrew was drafted in from Newcastle at lunchtime as cover for Paul Grayson, whose hip injury was giving grave cause for concern. The 70-cap veteran thought it probable that he would be on the plane back north come the evening, but his involvement against the Welsh was confirmed when Grayson conceded defeat yesterday evening.

Mike Catt, of Bath, will start at outside-half when England go in pursuit of a Triple Crown, with Andrew, whose high-profile and highly salaried role in Sir John Hall's Newcastle rugby revolution effectively drew a line under his top-level career, on the bench.

There is now a very real possibility that the hero of England's 1995 World Cup quarter-final victory in Cape Town will stand eyeball to eyeball with Jonathan Davies, his great adversary from as long ago as 1985, at some point during proceedings at the Arms Park.

Andrew turned up at the team's Marlow hotel yesterday to a fusillade of good-natured stick from his old colleagues - "Come on the Messiah," roared Jason Leonard from an open lounge window; "I thought you'd be arriving on a donkey," shouted Will Carling.

King, the fast-developing stand-off from Wasps who was pulled into the squad when Grayson's injury first began to look serious, was left to reflect on an unnecessarily brutal blow to his self-esteem. Predictably, his treatment earned Rowell some barbed criticism from Nigel Melville, the director of rugby at Wasps, who described Andrew's appearance as a "huge step backwards".

"The selectors feel they have problems with goalkicking cover on the bench," said Andrew, who looked more than a little embarrassed at his unexpected re-emergence from well over a year of international retirement.

"The request from Jack surprised me and I thought about declining, but after giving it a great deal of thought over 24 hours, I decided I was in a position to help out," he said. "I'm quite happy with my form and fitness but this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the start of a comeback. It's purely a one-off."

All very romantic, but wrong all the same. Having sent for King, who Rowell unhesitatingly described yesterday as "a key element in our thinking for the 1999 World Cup", the selectors betrayed one of their most gifted youngsters by losing their nerve and pulling in an old lag over his head.

Astonishingly, Rowell claimed that King would react positively to what amounted to a public kick in the teeth. The player's downbeat expression as he left for training at Bisham Abbey suggested a very different scenario.

"Rob is experienced, a No 10 and a goalkicker," said Rowell by way of explanation. "Alex is not a placekicker for his club and as I have repeatedly said, we have an issue here. This is a one-off situation; we've done a lot of building for the future this season but on this occasion, Rob is the simplest solution."

As if King needed to be exposed to any more ironies, Rowell added that had Tim Stimpson, England's full-back, been first-choice kicker at Newcastle, King would have held his place in the hierarchy and sat on the bench this weekend. And who is blocking Stimpson's development as a kicker at Kingston Park? Step forward Rob Andrew.

Phil de Glanville, the England captain, reacted uncomfortably to Andrew's call-up. He did his best to avoid commenting on the situation but he said: "I don't see why outside-halves and full-backs should be automatically pigeon-holed as kickers. There is no reason that I can see why centres, wings or even forwards should not work hard on their kicking. After all, we've just been beaten by France thanks to the goal-kicking of a centre, Christophe Lamaison.

"There are a number of things floating around behind the scenes - the Lions tour in the summer is an obvious one - but for all that, we are very focused on the match in Cardiff. We know we have a lot to do and it's important that we show the mental toughness that was missing at important times against France."