Rugby Union: Greenwood withdrawal adds to Woodward's tour troubles

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The Independent Online
SEVEN days ago, Clive Woodward was so relieved at being able to name Will Greenwood in his summer tour party that he made a public point of thanking the Lord for his mercy. Yesterday, the England coach was in more agnostic mood; Greenwood pulled out of the trip to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa when doctors confirmed that his injured shoulder could not be tested in combat for at least two months.

With Jeremy Guscott and Phil de Glanville ruled out for domestic reasons, Greenwood had been the only capped midfielder selected in Woodward's initial party. Given the Leicester centre's dismissal for butting Rob Andrew during a fractious contest at Newcastle only a week previously, he was considered extremely fortunate not to have been suspended for the entire duration of the southern hemisphere trek.

Sadly for Woodward, the leniency of the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary panel has gone to waste. The coach is now left with two of the rookiest rookies imaginable - Steve Ravenscroft of Saracens and Jos Baxendell of Sale - plus Leicester's "other" centre, Stuart Potter, who was bombed out of the Test equation by Jack Rowell following England's last visit to South Africa four years ago.

"Will visited his consultant on Saturday and, following exploratory keyhole surgery, underwent an immediate operation on his shoulder," Woodward reported. "We're both very disappointed at the outcome of the consultation. I will continue to consider an addition to the squad and expect to make an announcement in the next few days." Matt Allen of Northampton, unlucky to miss out on initial selection, will come under the microscope, although Woodward is likely to move Bath's versatile Matt Perry from full-back to centre for the Wallaby Test in Brisbane a fortnight on Saturday.

If that happens, Tim Stimpson may well walk straight back into the international arena as England's last line of defence. The gifted Lion consigned his Newcastle career to the garbage can yesterday by joining Leicester, thus bringing to an end a soul-destroying sojourn in the Premiership wilderness.

Stimpson was openly critical of the English champions' risk-free style and when he fell out with the Newcastle management over contractual issues, he found himself out in the cold. "There were times when I felt an outsider but there are no hard feelings. I was delighted when the club secured the title at Harlequins on Sunday," he said. "I do feel I've lost valuable time, though. You need to be playing regularly and that hasn't been the situation with me since last October. The England call- up has come as a real bonus because my lack of rugby left a big doubt in my mind."

Self-doubt is hardly one of Thomas Castaignede's more obvious traits and yesterday the confident French stand-off picked up the European Player of the Year accolade along with an pounds 8,000 cheque. Having led England up the garden path and single-handedly reduced Wales to a laughing stock in the space of four Five Nations matches, he was the obvious choice for the inaugural Heineken award.

Intriguingly, Castaignede did appear to be in two minds as to his immediate future when he collected his prize in London. "Three English clubs have approached me since the Five Nations," he said. "I like the way rugby is going in this country but I also have World Cup ambitions to think about and if they are best served by playing in France, I will stay there."

Meanwhile, senior RFU figures succeeded yesterday in persuading executive members of the International Rugby Board that their recent peace deal with England's professional clubs would not knock the 15-man world off its ultra-conservative axis. A six-hour meeting in Dublin resulted in the IRB's grudging acceptance of the agreement and, by extension, England's continued participation at Test level.

"It's been a happy day," said Peter Brook, the RFU president. "There was no mention by the IRB of our expulsion." Dick McGruther, the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union and a trenchant critic of the RFU's doveish behaviour, agreed. "Penalties against England were not even discussed," he said.