Rugby Union: England call for Mather and Thomson

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The Independent Online
CLIVE WOODWARD picked himself a whole new England back division yesterday and, in the process, issued the clearest of warnings to the one he put in place just over a fortnight ago. With the pre-Christmas international programme closing in fast and a trio of first-choice threequarters - David Rees, Will Greenwood and Austin Healey - giving cause for concern, the national coach has decided to stir the competitive pot during next week's two-day squad session at Roehampton.

Northampton's Nick Beal has been drafted in as an extra full-back - Woodward does not consider Chris Catling, the counter-attacking specialist from Gloucester, to be the finished article - but the most significant additions are at wing and centre. Dan Luger and Tony Underwood, perhaps the quickest straight-line speedsters in the English game, are called up on the wings while two contrasting imports, Jeremy Thomson from South Africa and Barrie Jon Mather from rugby league, are given the chance to dent a few midfield reputations.

There is nothing remotely premature about Thomson's involvement, although there is a certain irony in the fact that his promotion comes five days after his least convincing display of the season.

The 31-year-old Saracen caught fewer colds during his entire Super 12 career with Natal than he picked up at Harlequins on Saturday but, together with the incomparable Jeremy Guscott, he has been the class act this autumn.

One way or another, England are in a mess outside the pack; Healey, picked as a wing but playing scrum-half for Leicester, is now under pressure for his Test place while Rees and Greenwood are seriously short of match fitness. "This is all about providing myself with extra options," Woodward said yesterday. "I'm looking forward to working with Thomson and Mather for the first time and I'm pleased to see someone like Luger back to form after months of injury problems."

There are additions up front, too, notably a return for Tim Rodber, the Northampton captain and No 8, and the two form tight-head props currently plying their trade in the Premiership, Will Green of Wasps and Darren Crompton of Richmond.

In all, 38 players will gather at Roehampton, from which 26 will be selected for the World Cup qualifying matches against the Netherlands and Italy next month.

Meanwhile, the Australians will visit France and England without Matt Burke and Ben Tune, full-back and right wing respectively, because of injury. Another wing, Damian Smith, will stay behind for recuperative reasons and there are doubts over Tim Horan, Willie Ofahengaue and Patricio Noriega.

England and Australia squads, Digest, page 29