Rugby Union: England take shape as Woodward cuts deep

Clive Woodward took an intriguing first step towards stamping his personality on England's national squad yesterday by naming an elite party for tomorrow's training run at Bisham Abbey. Chris Hewett looks at the reasoning behind the new coach's selections.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Now that is what you call a cull. Clive Woodward took a tree-feller's axe to England's ludicrously over-populated interim party yesterday, chopping the vast majority of the 77-strong swathe of humanity nominated by Don Rutherford, the Rugby Football Union's technical director, and leaving himself a choice band of 23 players with which to work. At this rate, he will soon be in a position to give his his entire squad a lift to training.

Sensibly enough, Woodward has used his country's strong and generally successful Lions contingent as a foundation stone - all but four of his select high-fliers were in South Africa during the summer. Indeed, only three English Lions have not made the list: Nigel Redman, who ironically produced a world-class display before Woodward's very eyes in last Saturday's Bath-Brive match; Tony Underwood, the injury-prone Newcastle wing, and Tony Diprose, the Saracens captain.

Diprose has been named in an 11-strong subsidiary party of "emerging players", which includes one or two comparative old-stagers who seem to have been emerging for years. John Mallett, Garath Archer and Martin Corry have, like Diprose, already been capped but the other seven represent the very best of England's untried, untested and uninhibited talent.

Woodward said yesterday that, to all intents and purposes, Phil de Glanville could still consider himself England captain and would be in charge of proceedings tomorrow. However, he added a significant rider by saying: "I will be naming the captain simultaneously with the team for the first Test of the season against Australia in November and that side will be picked only on form. Everybody will need to show me and my fellow selectors that they are good enough to occupy their positions during these intervening weeks."

At least the new coach is staying true to his long-held philosophy that small is beautiful when it comes to squad size. Woodward believes in exclusivity, in making the inner circle so difficult to break into that, when players finally find the key to the door, they arrive hardened by the experience. Certainly, it will now take a monumental effort for some of England's best-known performers to claw their way back into contention.

Underwood may well feature sooner rather than later, but Redman, Ben Clarke, Victor Ubogu, Darren Garforth, Chris Sheasby and Jon Sleightholme are all on the outside looking in. So too is Andy Gomarsall, who started last season as England's first-choice scrum-half. The fall from grace can be steep and rapid, as the 23-year-old Wasp is discovering.

Will Greenwood, such an outstanding success with the Lions until his tour was cut-short by a life-threatening head injury during the match with Free State in Bloemfontein, is the only uncapped player on the elite list. With de Glanville back to something like his best and Jeremy Guscott nearing full fitness, the midfield selection for the Wallaby Test looks like a straightforward two from three.

The "emerging" list includes two youngsters widely expected challenge for Test places before the season is out: Matt Perry, the Bath utility back, and Will Green, the Wasps prop. But the dark horse may turn out to be Andy Long, the Bath and England Under-21 front-rower rated by many good judges as the most talented hooker to emerge in this country in a generation.

ENGLAND ELITE SQUAD: Full-back: T Stimpson (Newcastle). Wings: N Beal (Northampton), A Adebayo (Bath), J Bentley (Newcastle). Centres: J Guscott (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), P De Glanville (Bath). Stand-offs: P Grayson (Northampton), A King (Wasps), M Catt (Bath). Scrum-halfs: M Dawson (Northampton), K Bracken (Saracens), A Healey (Leicester). Props: G Rowntree (Leicester), J Leonard (Harlequins). Hookers: M Regan (Bath), P Greening (Gloucester). Locks: M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Wasps). Back row: L Dallaglio (Wasps), R Hill (Saracens), T Rodber (Northampton), N Back (Leicester).

EMERGING PLAYERS: T Beim (Sale), M Worsley (Bristol), W Green (Wasps), M Corry (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), J Mallett (Bath), A Diprose (Saracens), A Long (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), M Perry (Bath), M Wood (Wasps).