Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Rodber returns to England ranks for Irish Five Nations examination: Hall is the unlucky one in an otherwise unchanged team

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The Independent Online
IT WAS fairly clear once the England selectors had named their squad that Tim Rodber had only to be presumed fit and he would face Ireland next Saturday. And so it came to pass yesterday when John Hall was the unlucky one to make way.

Rodber for Hall, giving England an extra three inches of line-out potential, is the only change from the side who required Jonathan Callard's last- kick penalty to beat Scotland nine days ago. It will be the fourth cap for Lt Rodber of the Green Howards, and his second at blind-side flanker where he had a major influence in England's defeat of New Zealand two months ago.

He is a fine young forward who would have faced the Scots but for a recurrent torn hamstring, but spare a thought for Hall. It was his first cap for three years and, though he professed disappointment with his performance, he did more good work in the murkier, unseen areas of close-quarter forward play than he or anyone else has acknowledged.

Still, Rodber represents the future, his rugby career being given all the consideration it needs by a service still chastened that Will Carling felt the need to buy himself out in 1988. 'The army are conscious of the PR and the kudos and have given me a schedule which allows me to train and play rugby in between my duties,' Rodber said yesterday.

England trained without Carling, their captain, at Twickenham yesterday but such are the demands of league rugby that these Sunday sessions tend nowadays to be little more than morale-boosting get- togethers. The real work will begin on Wednesday. Carling decided not to risk a minor ankle injury, which did not prevent his completing Harlequins' game against Newcastle Gosforth on Saturday.

With Dean Richards still unfit (but hoping to return for Leicester in their cup tie against Moseley on 26 February), Hall has lost out to Rodber in order that Neil Back can continue to be accommodated for his second cap. Geoff Cooke, the England manager, has consistently avoided creating one- cap wonders but yesterday he made it clear that England could no longer afford to have only three line-out target men.

At 5ft 10in, Back could never be another of these; hence the preference for Rodber's 6ft 6in over Hall's 6ft 3in though, given that Rodber has not played even three-quarters of a match since he limped off after an hour playing for Northampton at Leicester on 8 January, Cooke recognises the risk.

'We are happy with Tim's condition at the moment. We just hope he doesn't break down again,' he said. In response, Rodber gave him this assurance: 'I will be 100 per cent by midweek despite having only half a game in the six weeks since I first damagaed my hamstring. England have taken a gamble on me and I will repay them by being fully fit.'

Rodber absented himself from Northampton's game with Bristol on Saturday so as to avoid making the same mistake as he did at London Irish three weeks earlier, when the hamstring gave up on him after 40 minutes.

The inactivity would make most people wonder at his match fitness, but not Rodber himself. 'I've trained harder in the last few weeks in the knowledge that I didn't have to reserve myself for a Saturday match, and a mid-season break does no harm to match fitness, which is developed in September and October,' he said.

As Rodber did not participate in the escape at Murrayfield, he will be under less pressure than any of his comrades in next Saturday's match. Implicit in this England selection is that another such performance would cause more heads than Hall's to roll. 'Some of the players are under pressure,' Cooke said. 'They can't afford two poor games with players on the fringe who are performing well and believe they have a right to be in the team.'

France have named an unchanged team for the other Five Nations match next Saturday, against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park, but Welsh injury problems - specifically those related to Ieuan Evans and Nigel Davies - mean a delay in their announcement until Wednesday.

Although Evans, the Wales captain, now has full movement in his injured left shoulder he is doing no more than gentle training and remains extremely doubtful, as does Davies, whose groin injury extends to bruising of the pelvis and is worse than initially thought.

Anthony Clement has fully recovered from a calf strain, however, and if Davies does not make it will move from full- back to centre. That would accommodate Mike Rayer at full- back, with Simon Hill the right- wing cover for Evans and Nigel Walker certain to return on the left after scoring two tries on his comeback for Cardiff against Cambridge University.

INTERNATIONAL LINE-UPS

ENGLAND (v Ireland, at Twickenham, 19 February): J Callard (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke (Bath), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: M Catt (Bath), S Barnes (Bath), D Morris (Orrell), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe (Bath), S Ojomoh (Bath).

ENGLAND A (v Ireland A, Richmond, 18 February): P Hull (Bristol); A Adebayo (Bath), D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), N Beal (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), M Dawson (Northampton); C Clark (Bath), K Dunn (Wasps), J Mallett (Bath), A Blackmore (Bristol), N Redman (Bath), A Diprose (Saracens), D Ryan (Wasps, capt), J Jenkins (London Irish). Replacements: P Holford (Gloucester), P Grayson (Northampton), A Kardooni (Leicester), A Mullins (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Sims (Gloucester).

FRANCE (v Wales, at Cardiff, 19 February): J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Bernat- Salles (Pau), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), F Galthie (Colomiers); P Gallart (Beziers), J-M Gonzales (Aviron Bayonnais), L Armary (Lourdes), O Roumat (Dax, capt), O Merle (Grenoble), A Benazzi (Agen), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin).

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