Rugby Union: Guscott back but England play safe: Rowell quick to recall a former favourite but refuses the opportunity to experiment with new faces. Steve Bale reports

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His comeback has scarcely begun, but already England have waited long enough for Jeremy Guscott. Yesterday, the only experiment in which Jack Rowell indulged in his team to face Romania at Twickenham on Saturday week was the return of his centre of excellence for his 29th cap alongside Will Carling, who wins his 50th.

Some experiment. The England manager's gamble, such as it is, is certainly not on Guscott's quality but rather on his fitness for international duties after a year's injury absence and only two subsequent games for Bath.

Otherwise, the experimental shifts that had been thought possible were deferred at least until the Canada match, which follows in December.

Continuity is all very well but the choice, showing only two differences - Guscott for the unfortunate Phil de Glanville and Martin Johnson for Nigel Redman at lock - from the team trounced by South Africa in the second Test in June, was not without contention, specifically the exclusion of Dean Richards.

The Leicester captain may have anticipated his fate when, post-South Africa, Rowell damned him with faint praise for the improvement in his mobility on tour. But it has happened before and each time England's most-capped No 8 eventually had to be picked again.

Indeed, as the old England management regime had been known to drop Richards from time to time, it was not exactly a surprise that the new one should follow suit. But the preference for Ben Clarke at No 8, as well as for Steve Ojomoh at open-side flanker, cannot be said to be on the grounds of current form. It is the World Cup next May that is setting the selectorial agenda.

The fact is that Clarke and Ojomoh, for differing reasons, have been unsettled and lacking in confidence this season, Clarke struggling to rectify his ever-suspect handling and Ojomoh unable - understandably - to sustain any momentum as long as he spends half his time in the Bath second team.

Clarke has already told the England selectors he is so fed up with being made to play open side that he does not wish to be considered there; Ojomoh would also rather not, but does not have the luxury of an option. It is fortuitous for them that the Romanians, recently beaten by Wales and Italy, are not the strongest opposition.

In the end, the back row has remained the same as played in Cape Town, where Richards withdrew through injury. The choice is based on the need as demonstrated by the tour to South Africa for top-of-the- ground loose forwards, though the logical conclusion of this would be to go all the way and pick a proper open side such as Neil Back, Andy Robinson or the widely touted Derek Eves.

Ojomoh played open side in Bath's lucky escape at West Hartlepool 10 days ago and looked what he was: a man who had had too little rugby, which is an unlikely complaint at a time when we are constantly told players are playing too much. Unlike Clarke and Ojomoh, Richards has been superb as Leicester have been moving to the top of the First Division and this is an depressingly unkind reward for him.

Still, when it happened before, in the 1991 World Cup and during the 1992-93 season, he had the last laugh by forcing his way back. Always an immoveable object and sometimes an irresistible force, he can expect to return against the more demanding Canadian opposition if things do not go to England's plan against Romania.

If we are to believe the Rugby Football Union's technical director, Don Rutherford, who was left to field questions on behalf of the selectors at Twickenham, the latter match is likely to be the one for experimentation. There is an obvious advantage to be gained from having all of next year's prospective World Cup squad used to international rugby before big crowds.

The RFU is expecting 47,000 for Romania and a capacity 58,000 for Canada, staggeringly high figures for this category of opposition and ideal in Rutherford's terms. 'I would imagine that against Canada there would be one or two changes in order to see these players,' he said.

ENGLAND (v Romania, Twickenham, 12 November): P Hull (Bristol); T Underwood (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke, S Ojomoh (Bath).

Replacements: P de Glanville, M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe (Bath), D Richards (Leicester).

All the South Africans, except their injured captain, Francois Pienaar, and Tiaan Strauss, who did not play against Cardiff are in the team to play Wales A at Newport tomorrow, Rudi Straeuli and Ruben Kruger playing for the second time.

Matthew Back, of Bridgend, yesterday replaced Anthony Clement (hamstring) at full- back in the Welsh team with Paul John taking over the captaincy from Clement.

SOUTH AFRICA (v Wales A, Newport, tomorrow): G Johnson (Transvaal); J Olivier (Northern Transvaal), M Linee (Western Province), J Mulder, P Hendriks; H le Roux (Transvaal), K Putt (Natal); P du Randt (Orange Free State), J Dalton (Transvaal), T Laubscher (Western Province), J Wiese, P Schutte (Transvaal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), R Straeuli (Transvaal, capt), E van der Bergh (Eastern Province). Replacements: A Joubert (Natal), J Stransky (Western Province), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal), I Hattingh, U Schmidt (Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal).

(Photograph omitted) Alan Watkins, page 38

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