Rugby Union / Five Nations Countdown: Barnes handed a pivotal role

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The Independent Online
WHILE Scotland will be doing their very best to ensure otherwise, Stuart Barnes is to be given the freedom of Twickenham by England tomorrow.

Although this is an honour considered long overdue by supporters of the 30-year-old Bath outside-half, official confirmation of the blessing was delayed until yesterday when the player prepared for his first start in a Five Nations' championship match.

Anything else, of course, would have been unforgivable. Having sat a total of 23 times on the bench, the one certainty was that the forthright Barnes would hardly be featuring in a passive role and he now finds himself in the welcome position of being able to call the shots in a crucial Calcutta Cup match.

There is still much to play for in a championship which no longer sees the title shared - from this season, the championship is decided on points difference - and allied to denying Scotland a Triple Crown, England are looking for a substantial margin of victory here and against Ireland in Dublin a fortnight hence in order to finish top after being denied a record hat- trick of Grand Slams by Wales.

Enter Barnes, Rob Andrew's successor following last month's try-less performance in Cardiff. 'Stuart will remain his own man,' Will Carling, the England captain, said after yesterday's training session. 'There is no pressure on him to play in any special way. He will make the decisions. He is the pivot. Since he was chosen he has mentioned ways of improving the team. Changing what was a long- standing midfield simply makes you think about the game.'

The Barnes forte is the taking of a flat pass and Mike Slemen, the England backs' coach said: 'We have picked Stuart because we want him to play up against the gain line. We have not worked out how to beat a cover defence and he will give us the focus in midfield.' Under the experimental laws, this area has become cluttered and Barnes is considered the best bet to lead a break-out.

Meanwhile, there was a warning from Geoff Cooke over the use of illegal studs. England's Brian Moore and Jason Leonard were two of three Harlequin forwards ordered to change their boots during last Saturday's Pilkington Cup quarter-final at Waterloo and the manager said: 'It has been made clear to the players that their boots must conform to regulations. The studs issue has been brought into sharp focus and taken on board.'

As for the Scots, who assembled for a two-hour session at Murrayfield, any lingering fitness doubts over seven of their players were cleared up before they flew south yesterday. The news, though, was not so good for Ireland, who must face Wales at the National Stadium without Neil Francis.

The lock has pulled out with a calf injury suffered in training on Wednesday. Mick Galwey moves from No 8 to the second row with Brian Robinson promoted from the A team to the back row.

In spite of all the preaching leading up to the 1991 World Cup, precious few top goal-kickers ever happily made the conversion to the official Adidas synthetic match ball and indeed the chorus of complaint was long and loud. Now tournament organisers have booted the offending object into touch.

Yesterday brought the announcement that Gilbert rugby balls, favoured among others by England, are to be used exclusively in all Rugby World Cup matches. The three-year deal covers next month's inaugural World Cup Sevens at Murrayfield and all qualifying matches leading up to and including the 1995 World Cup in South Africa.

McGeechan's geometry, page 32