Rugby Union: Coach to back the boot of Dawson kicking major gamble

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The Independent Online
MIKE CATT'S costly miscued conversion against Australia last weekend might have left the Twickenham faithful with the distinct impression that England's goal-kicking was a little on the dodgy side.

They ain't seen nothing yet. When Clive Woodward's team attempt to deny the Springboks a record 18th consecutive Test victory on Saturday, the marksmanship really will be on a wing and a prayer. Or rather, a scrum- half and a prayer.

Woodward has nominated Matt Dawson, the Northampton half-back, as this week's kicker in the absence of his injured clubmate Paul Grayson. Dawson is hardly enjoying a purple patch with his passing, let alone anything else, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that the national coach is taking one of the bigger gambles of his high-rolling England tenure.

"No, it's not ideal that Matt doesn't kick regularly, even at club level, although I've seen him land six from six for Northampton in the past," admitted Woodward yesterday. "But I'm not the Wizard of Oz and I can't pluck a front-line kicker out of nowhere. We've asked Matt to do the job and I'm confident he can meet the demands of the situation. Besides, it's one thing less for Catt to think about."

Had Grayson recovered from the jarred knee that forced him to abandon the Wallaby Test after half an hour, Catt would probably have had nothing to worry about this weekend apart from the danger of picking up splinters from the replacement's bench. As it is, Bath's gifted but erratic stand- off gets the chance to repeat the blinding 30-odd minutes of rugby he produced against the Springboks this time last year.

The changes come at full-back, where Nick Beal replaces the concussed Matt Perry, and wing, where Dan Luger reclaims the No 11 shirt from an out-of-sorts Austin Healey. Will Greenwood's continuing groin problems mean another chance for the former England captain, Phil de Glanville, in midfield, while the pack, which more than went the distance with the Australians, is retained en bloc.

If Beal's promotion was entirely predictable, Woodward's preference for Luger over David Rees was a real head-scratcher. Rees remains the coach's favourite wing and while he has played only two full games for Sale since pulling out of the summer tour of the southern hemisphere with a chronic groin condition, he is considered fit enough to sit among Saturday's replacements. If he can play the last 20 minutes, why not the first 20?

"David hasn't trained that much with us lately and as things stand, I can't make out a case for bringing him in above Tony Underwood," explained Woodward. But the coach was rather missing the point. Healey's rough spell of form gave the coach a heaven-sent opportunity to bring the best defensive wing in the country back into the fold and switch Underwood to the left flank, where he feels he is comfortable.

Woodward is convinced that Luger's raw pace will eventually make him an automatic choice but on Saturday, of all days, experience will be a priceless commodity.

There was no such agonising in the Springbok camp yesterday as Nick Mallett, their coach, named a side unchanged from the one that survived a fierce Irish challenge in Dublin last weekend.

The one serious doubt concerned the hooker, James Dalton, who alarmed his front-row brethren by volunteering for extra training last week and paid by twanging his hamstring so badly that he was able to last only 10 minutes of the game. "As we speak, he's in the side," said Mallett, who will put Dalton through a stern fitness test today.

Mallett refused to concede that fatigue might figure in this weekend's complex equation. "We don't talk about the fatigue factor," he insisted. "The more you mention it, the more the players think it exists.

"We have no motivation problems whatsoever. These players are too proud for that to be an issue. This tour cannot be called a success unless we beat England and that is incentive enough."

Unlike Woodward, Mallett has been able to hold together the same narrow squad of players through thick and thin - not that there has been much in the way of "thin" to concern him over the last year.

"I believe absolutely in consistency of selection," he said yesterday. "I thought long and hard about making two changes to the side on this tour and, having made them, I always intended to give the new players a run of games to show what they could do. I owed them that."

ENGLAND (v South Africa, Twickenham, Saturday): N Beal (Northampton), T Underwood (Newcastle), P de Glanville (Bath), J Guscott (Bath), D Luger (Harlequins), M Catt (Bath), M Dawson (Northampton), J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (all Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: D Rees (Sale), A King (Wasps), A Healey (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens), G Rowntree (Leicester), P Greening (Sale).

SOUTH AFRICA: P Montgomery (Griqualand West); S Terblanche (Boland Cavaliers), A Snyman (Blue Bulls), C Stewart (Western Province), P Rossouw (Western Province); H Honiball (Natal Sharks), J van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls); R Kempson (Natal Sharks), J Dalton (Golden Lions), A Garvey (Natal Sharks), K Otto (Blue Bulls), M Andrews (Natal Sharks), J Erasmus (Free State), B Skinstad (Western Province), G Teichmann (Natal Sharks, capt). Replacements: G du Toit (Griqualand West), F Smith (Blue Bulls), W Swanepoel (Free State), C Krige (Western Province), A Venter (Free State Cheetahs), O Le Roux (Natal Sharks), N Drotske (Free State).