Rugby Union: Corry wins the back row vote

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IF DEAN RICHARDS says that Martin Corry is the best No 8 in England, you can rest assured that Martin Corry is the best No 8 in England. Forty- eight international caps confirm Richards as an authority on the subject and if Clive Woodward has yet to give the great Leicester folk hero an ex-officio place on his selection panel, he has clearly taken notice of the smoke signals emanating from Welford Road recently.

Corry, capped twice in Argentina last year, will make a third appearance for his country against the Netherlands at Huddersfield this weekend and, while the opposition is certain to be of the pushover variety, the game could still be the making of him. "In one sense, he's in because Lawrence Dallaglio is injured," said Woodward yesterday.

"But in another very real sense, he's in on form. Martin has huge physical presence and he has made it count for Leicester in recent weeks. I have no hesitation in asking him to do a job for England."

As recently as a month ago the two Saracens loose forwards, Richard Hill and Tony Diprose, would have fancied their chances of starting Saturday's one-way bun fight at the McAlpine Stadium. Since then, however, the balance of the domestic Premiership has shifted towards Leicester and Woodward is genuinely excited by the prospect of Corry and Neil Back, the first name on his team sheet, recreating their club partnership at Test level.

"Back is simply outstanding at the moment but, to get the very best from his talents, you need to put some heavy artillery alongside him," the coach explained. "I think both Martin and Ben Clarke come into that category and I've no doubt that they will give Neil the licence to do the things he does best."

England are almost embarrassingly well endowed in the loose forward department; this time last year Woodward considered the Dallaglio-Hill-Diprose axis to be his best back-row combination. Dallaglio will almost certainly recover from strained knee ligaments in good time for the grudge match with the Wallabies at Twickenham on 28 November - the World Cup regulations effectively rule him out of the qualifier with Italy on Sunday week - but the Saracens pair now face an uphill climb towards further Test recognition.

By comparison, the wing positions remain so up in the air as to be suffering from altitude sickness. Dan Luger, a hot performer on the Harlequins left wing this season with seven tries in nine Premiership outings, wins his first cap in the absence of David Rees and Tony Underwood, while Austin Healey hangs on in there despite his preference for life at scrum-half. It is a fair bet, though, that the wide partnership will change by the time England reach the more meaningful sections of their pre-Christmas programme.

"If we were playing a World Cup final this weekend, I would be seriously concerned at losing players of the calibre of Rees and Underwood, not to mention someone of Lawrence's stature," admitted Woodward. "but we're not involved in anything of that magnitude this weekend so I can be more philosophical."

On the quiet, the coach was almost grateful for one late withdrawal. Kyran Bracken's back strain, suffered during Monday's training session, saved Woodward a hellish decision and enabled him to pair Matt Dawson with his Northampton club-mate, Paul Grayson. Which way would he have jumped had both No 9s been fully functional? "Pass," he said. "The dilemma didn't arise so I haven't lost any sleep. Yet."

According to Martin Johnson, who shoulders the captaincy burden in Dallaglio's absence, the task ahead is simple. "We'll prepare as we would for any Test and, while I know we are meant to win by God knows how many points, we'll judge ourselves on the basis of how we perform," he said.

Meanwhile back at Leicester, Richards also knows how he will judge Woodward's selection. Given that the Leicester coach must travel to Wasps on Sunday without three-quarters of his pack, he probably considers it a disaster. If only he had kept his mouth shut about Corry.

ENGLAND (World Cup qualifier v Netherlands, Huddersfield, Saturday): M Perry (Bath); A Healey (Leicester), W Greenwood (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), D Luger (Harlequins); P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), G

Archer (Newcastle), M Johnson (Leicester), B Clarke (Richmond), M Corry (Leicester), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: N Beal (Northampton), P de Glanville (Bath), M Catt (Bath), G Rowntree (Leicester), P Greening (Sale), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens). Four other squad members for the World Cup qualifiers against Netherlands and Italy: T Beim (Sale), W Green (Wasps), A Diprose (Saracens), D Grewcock (Saracens).