Rugby Union: Guscott is the gamble in Rowell's tour party: England's new manager looks long term

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The Independent Online
JACK ROWELL attached his imprimatur to England yesterday with a steady-as-she-goes selection of longer-term significance than the eight-match tour of South Africa in May and June for which it has been made. The longer term stretches even further than England's return to the Republic for next year's World Cup.

Will Carling remains captain, backed by the new manager's confident expectation he will continue in that role to the World Cup. The players bequeathed by Geoff Cooke to Rowell after bringing England to a successful conclusion to their Five Nations season are all in the tour party of 30.

It would have been a radical departure if they had not been. The Bath coach has created a bigger stir with other omissions, notably those of his own club captain, John Hall, and Neil Back, the former's mobility regarded as suspect on hard South African grounds and the supremely mobile latter deemed too small to compete with the Springbok leviathans.

But, given that Hall and Back had already been discarded by Cooke, it will not be until Rowell has worked out his first choice in South Africa that any change from his predecessor, notably over the vexed outside-half question, will become apparent. Indeed this may well not be until the first Test at Loftus Versfeld on 4 June.

More immediately striking is that Rowell and his co-selectors are willing to gamble on an unfit Jeremy Guscott and that two of the less obvious of the half-dozen uncapped choices - the wing Adedayo Adebayo and the prop John Mallett - are out of Rowell's Bath stable.

'We want him in South Africa, but only if he can play an active part,' Rowell said of Guscott, whose persistent pelvic injury has restricted him to two autumn league games this season. 'We would say that two-thirds fitness is enough.' Not every England candidate would receive such generous consideration as the sorely missed centre.

Neither Adebayo nor Mallett played in Bath's cup semi-final victory at Harlequins, nor for that matter did Steve Ojomoh, while the uncapped sevens expert, Lawrence Dallaglio, who is preferred to Back, has been first choice neither for Wasps nor for England A.

Hall, Back and the Murrayfield match-winner, Jonathan Callard, are the only ones among the 23 who have represented England this season to miss out on a tour which will bring the resurrection of Mathew Poole's England aspirations four years after his progress was halted by a calamitous tour of Argentina.

Even without Back, this squad includes 10 of those who toured New Zealand with Rowell under the England B banner two years ago, with Damian Hopley being moved from centre to wing and this season's South African newcomer, Mike Catt, chosen as a centre but also providing convenient cover for most other back positions as well.

Though Rowell still expects the tour to proceed, he advised yesterday that 'the last minute', which the Rugby Football Union has consistently given as the cut-off point for a decision to abort, could not be left quite that late.

No alternative is planned and the RFU yesterday received an assurance from Louis Luyt, the all-powerful president of the South African RFU, that however serious the security situation it would not affect the tourists.

----------------------------------------------------------------- TOUR PARTY AND ITINERARY ----------------------------------------------------------------- FULL-BACKS: I Hunter (Northampton), D Pears (Harlequins). WINGS: *A Adebayo (Bath), *D Hopley (Wasps), R Underwood, T Underwood (Leicester). CENTRES: M Catt (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville, J Guscott (Bath). OUTSIDE-HALVES: R Andrew (Wasps), S Barnes (Bath). SCRUM- HALVES: K Bracken (Bristol), D Morris (Orrell). PROPS: J Leonard (Harlequins), *J Mallett (Bath), *G Rowntree (Leicester), V Ubogu (Bath). HOOKERS: G Dawe (Bath), B Moore (Harlequins). LOCKS: M Bayfield (Northampton), M Johnson, *M Poole (Leicester), N Redman (Bath). BACK ROW: B Clarke (Bath), *L Dallaglio, D Ryan (Wasps), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton). *denotes uncapped player ----------------------------------------------------------------- Manager: J Rowell. Assistant manager: J Elliott. Coaches: R Best, L Cusworth. Doctor: T Crystal. Physiotherapist: K Murphy. ----------------------------------------------------------------- ITINERARY: 18 May Orange Free State (Bloemfontein); 21 May Natal (Durban); 25 May Western Transvaal (Potchefstroom); 28 May Transvaal (Johannesburg); 31 May South Africa B (Kimberley); 4 June SOUTH AFRICA (Pretoria, First Test); 7 June Eastern Province (Port Elizabeth); 11 June SOUTH AFRICA (Cape Town, Second Test). -----------------------------------------------------------------

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