RUGBY UNION: Dallaglio out of England's Cup qualifier

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The Independent Online
IF ENGLAND were about to have their mental and physical faculties stretched to the limit by the Springboks, rather than their ankles bitten by a lightweight colony of Dutch midgets, Clive Woodward would probably be in panic mode right now. The ferocity of last weekend's Premiership programme has left the coach's selection for the international opener with the Netherlands about as clear as mud; Lawrence Dallaglio, his captain, has withdrawn with knee trouble and a serious doubt surrounds Tony Underwood, who would have been a shoo-in on the left-wing had his groin not gone during Newcastle's defeat at Harlequins on Saturday.

As it is, Woodward will still be enjoying a full night's sleep. England may be engaged on World Cup business at Huddersfield in four days' time but another 14 red roses will have to join Dallaglio on the casualty list if the visitors are to have the remotest chance of keeping the margin of defeat under 60 points.

Martin Corry, who has been playing the finest rugby of his career at Leicester and has even managed to drag a few superlatives from the lips of that master of understatement Dean Richards, was yesterday promoted to Woodward's 32-man squad to reinforce the back row. He will remain in the party for the second qualifying game with Italy on Sunday week if Dallaglio's condition shows no sign of rapid improvement.

Spencer Brown of Richmond is likewise bracketed with Underwood while Nick Beal, the Northampton full-back, also gets a late call-up. His appearance smacks of a Woodward plot to give Matt Perry, the incumbent, a psychological prod. The coach considers Perry a senior England player - indeed, he has been known to use the term "world class" in celebrating the Bath youngster's many attributes - but events at Leicester on Saturday, where Perry and his wings had a rough time from a 16,000 audience, merely underlined a worrying lack of confidence.

Martin Johnson will captain his country in Dallaglio's absence. The Leicester lock has not been in this sort of form since well before the 1997 Lions tour of South Africa, which he led with considerable success despite an obvious lack of fitness, and the put-upon Dutch will not relish the thought of his knocking on their dressing-room door at the McAlpine Stadium. Extraordinary as it may seem, however, the temporary skipper is one of the few cast-iron certainties to take the field this weekend.

Richard Cockerill and Neil Back, both club-mates of Johnson's, are already inked in, as is Jeremy Guscott in the centre. The rest, though, is up in the air and will remain so until Woodward announces his starting line- up together with a wider 26-man squad in Leeds on Thursday.

Jason Leonard will start at loose-head assuming his apparently badly bruised hand continues to settle down over the next 48 hours. But there are major decisions to be made at tight head, middle jumper, blind-side flanker and No 8 as well as at outside-half and wing.

The closest contest of all, though, is at scrum-half. Woodward's decision to award Johnson the captaincy suggests that Matt Dawson, who shouldered the burden so bravely in the southern hemisphere during the summer, has yet to fight off Kyran Bracken's challenge for the No 9 shirt. That may seem hard on Dawson, who could use a green-field gambol against the Dutch after risking life and limb against the lights of New Zealand and South Africa, but the coach rates Bracken every bit as highly and is clearly torn between the two.

ENGLAND SQUAD (for World Cup qualifier v Netherlands, Huddersfield, Saturday: Backs: M Perry (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), D Luger (Harlequins), A Healey (Leicester), T Underwood (Newcastle) or S Brown (Richmond), D Rees (Sale), J Guscott (Bath), M Greenwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), J Thomson (Saracens), P Grayson (Northampton), M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Saracens), M Dawson (Northampton); T Beim (Sale). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), G Rowntree (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), W Green (Wasps), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Greening (Sale), A Long (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens), G Archer (Newcastle), T Rodber (Northampton), L Dallaglio (Wasps), B Clarke (Richmond), M Corry (Leicester), A Diprose (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens).

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