Rugby Union: England pick Pears in new look for Paris: Five Nations' Championship: Sweeping changes in wake of Irish defeat

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND (v France, Paris, Saturday)

D Pears (Harlequins); I Hunter (Northampton), P de Glanville (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (both Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), S Ojomoh, B Clarke (both Bath). Replacements: M Catt, S Barnes (both Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe (Bath), D Ryan (Wasps).

ENGLAND A (v France A, Paris, Saturday)

J Callard (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), N Beal (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), S Bates (Wasps, capt); C Clark (Bath), K Dunn (Wasps), J Mallett (Bath), M Bayfield (Northampton), A Blackmore (Bristol), M Greenwood (Wasps), A Diprose (Saracens), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: P Hull (Bristol), J Harris (Leicester), M Dawson (Northampton), A Mullins (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps).

FRANCE (v England)

J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); W Techoueyres (Bordeaux), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), F Galthie (Colomiers); L Benezech (Racing), J- M Gonzalez (Bayonne), P Gallart (Beziers), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax, capt), A Benazzi (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing), P Benetton (Agen). Replacements: E N'tamack (Toulouse), P Montlaur (Agen), G Accoceberry (Begles), L Loppy (Toulon), F Landreau (Grenoble), L Seigne (Merignac).

IRELAND (v Scotland, Dublin, Saturday)

C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), M Field (Malone), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Cork Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), P Clohessy (Young Munster), M Galwey (Shannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), B Robertson (Ballymena), D McBride (Malone), P Johns (Dungannon). Replacements: C Clarke (Terenure College), A McGowan (Blackrock College), R Saunders (London Irish), K O'Connell (Sunday's Well), G Halpin (London Irish), K Wood (Garryowen).

DAVID PEARS came through Harlequins' cup-tie against Sale in good shape and that was enough to persuade the England selectors yesterday that he was worth the gamble of a first cap at full-back in this Saturday's international in Paris.

Five changes after the home defeat by Ireland are more sweeping than anything the Cooke regime has previously allowed itself at this sensitive time of year. The French have got far less carried away by their own more substantial defeat by Wales, two of their three changes being in positions where the previous incumbents are injured.

But for France's recall of their nonpareil flanker Laurent Cabannes after a four-month lay-off during which he has not played a game, Pears's return would have seemed even more wondrous. His latest comeback has lasted all of three matches, which by Pears's standards is a long unbroken run.

After also completing England's session at Twickenham yesterday, Pears recounted his troubled history since he won his third cap, as an outside-half replacement for Rob Andrew, in Paris two years ago.

'For the last 17 months I've had very little rugby because I received injuries to my neck, back, jaw, groin and knee. I needed an operation on my knee a couple of months ago and I'm hopeful after enduring so much I can have a bit of luck and play in a winning side.'

If anyone deserves it, it is Pears, 26, who won his first two caps in Argentina in 1990 and was one of two players - the other was Dewi Morris, also reinstated yesterday - in the 1991 World Cup squad not given a game. 'Being chosen after only three comeback matches this month makes all the pain and operations worthwhile,' he added.

Of all people, the reluctant full-back can sympathise with the misfortune of Jonathan Callard, the match-winner against New Zealand and Scotland but now demoted along with Tony Underwood, Martin Bayfield and Neil Back to the England A team to play France A Saturday lunchtime. As it happens, Pears was originally picked only in the A squad.

Callard scored 39 of England's 42 try-less points during his three appearances but, if the manager is to be believed, was never a long-term option. 'We've always had Pears earmarked as a full-back to take us through to the 1995 World Cup,' Cooke said.

For now the place-kicking will revert for the first time in five years to Rob Andrew, though Harlequins intend to restore Pears as their kicker in their next league game, at Northampton on 12 March. Cooke conceded that Pears would have quite enough on his plate: 'He may be a bit rusty and will have to find his feet quickly.' Clarke, Redman, Morris and Hunter are the others back in favour, though Clarke was only ever out of the side because of injury.

Cabannes' inclusion without so much as a comeback game is a reflection of his elevated reputation and an exceptional performance when the squad trained on Friday. He did so well then that Guy Laporte, the manager, acclaimed his 'remarkable physiological and physical fitness' and added: 'Tactically he brings a lot to the team and, especially, enables us to ensure the link between forwards and threequarters which has been lacking in our recent performances.'

After France's leaden back- row display in Wales, this could not be more timely. Philippe Benetton moves from flanker to No 8 instead of the injured Marc Cecillon. With Louis Armary also injured, Laurent Benezech, a team-mate of Cabannes with Racing, wins his first cap at prop and there is another newcomer on the wing, William Techoueyres from Bordeaux ousting Emile N'tamack, himself a new cap in Cardiff.

There are no such problems, and certainly no such debate, for the Irish selectors, who yesterday retained the team who caused England such problems and debate for Scotland's visit to Dublin.

(Photograph omitted)