Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Clarke hands over to Ojomoh

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The Independent Online
THE bell tolled yesterday for big Ben Clarke, who ruled himself out of tomorrow's Five Nations match against Ireland at Twickenham after training with England at The Stoop. The Nigerian-born Steve Ojomoh, a Bath back-row colleague, steps in for his first cap.

It was another Bath teammate, the Scottish lock Andy Reed, who inadvertently caused Clarke's withdrawal when he fell on his arm during England's opening game at Murrayfield 13 days ago. Since then, Clarke has had his right elbow drained of fluid.

Yesterday, though, having taken several knocks in a 40- minute session, Clarke gave himself the elbow by telling the selectors he had doubts about going the distance against the Irish. Nor did he want to jeopardise his chances of playing in England's final two matches against France and Wales.

'We would obviously rather lose Ben for the one match than for three,' Geoff Cooke, the England manager said. 'It is a blow to be without such a great player, but we believe that we have tremendous strength in the back-row back-up.'

England's back row have won just four caps between them. While the 23-year-old Ojomoh makes his debut, Tim Rodber has three and Neil Back one, with the more

experienced John Hall named among the replacements.

Cooke, though, remains

optimistic. 'Ojomoh, Rodber and Back will be the fittest loose forward unit ever to have played for England,' he said.

Of the new boy, Cooke said: 'Ojomoh is talented, athletic, powerful and has good hands in the air. He is effective in the line-out, makes strong tackles, and takes the ball forward in attack. He has all the qualities needed by a modern back-row forward.'

While he has played only five competitive club games this season, Ojomoh arrives in the team after a full divisional programme with the South- west and having sat on the bench at Murrayfield. He said yesterday: 'I'm going to do my best to take the opportunity.'

Wales also had to make a change yesterday. Nigel Davies, who has a groin injury, has pulled out of the team to play France in Cardiff tomorrow 24 hours after declaring himself fit. Tony Clement thus partners Mike Hall in the centre while his place on the bench is taken by the Cardiff flanker, Hemi Taylor.