Rugby Union: Guscott pulls out as Lomu charges back

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Jeremy Guscott is out of the frame but Jonah Lomu is back in the picture. Chris Hewett reflects on a bad news day for England as they prepare for a severe examination by the rugby union superpowers of the southern hemisphere.

English rugby fought its very own version of the Battle of the Bulge yesterday and found itself defeated on all fronts. No sooner had Jeremy Guscott, Lions superhero and the single most potent offensive weapon in a red rose army short on attacking panache, declared himself a non-starter for this autumn's four-Test campaign than a certain Mr J Lomu of Auckland, New Zealand, reported fit for duty after 12 long months in the All Black field hospital. It was not what the England hierarchy wanted to hear.

The bulging disc in Guscott's back will sideline the Bath centre for a minimum of another four weeks and if his worst fears are confirmed when specialists perform a further scan on the damaged area next month, surgery will be the only answer. Guscott was keeping his own counsel yesterday but many of his closest club-mates suspect he is about to call it a day at 32.

Meanwhile Lomu, who bulges in areas where rival players tend not to have places, is back in business after a successful year-long fight against a degenerative kidney disease. The man who single-handedly slaughtered England in the 1995 World Cup semi-final in Cape Town is included in a 36-man New Zealand squad of quite awesome strength for the forthcoming nine-match tour of Britain and Ireland.

"I'd love another crack at the Poms," the outsized 24-year-old wing said yesterday. "I was told after playing for Counties on Sunday that the All Black coaches wanted to speak to me and it was obviously going to be good news or bad news. I was so excited that I didn't sleep much. I'm just glad to be part of the team once more."

Lomu joins Jeff Wilson, Tana Umaga and Glen Osborne in a wing quartet of frightening quality. Sadly for the home unions, the All Blacks boast similar riches in almost every other area of their squad; Andrew Mehrtens and Carlos Spencer are probably the best outside-halves in Test rugby, the eight-man loose forward contingent is of the highest possible calibre and with Sean Fitzpatrick, Norm Hewitt and Anton Oliver all available, they possess three of the top four hookers currently plying their trade in the front rows of the world.

By way of response, Clive Woodward, the new England coach, has drafted 17 new faces into his elite squad for tomorrow's training run at Bisham Abbey. The notable additions include Matt Perry, the exciting utility back from Bath, and two rather more familiar London-based back-rowers, Ben Clarke and Chris Sheasby.

There are interesting developments in the front row, too, where Will Green of Wasps makes a first appearance among the top dogs and a rejuvenated Victor Ubogu earns a recall after a series of startling performances for Bath.

"It's a huge shame for Guscott that he will not be having another crack at the three southern hemisphere nations but it's not the end of the world for us; it gives someone else a chance," said Woodward, positively. "It's 99 per cent certain that the players for the four Tests against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will come from this squad, which I will regard as being on tour once it assembles in the second week of November."

ENGLAND SQUAD (for training at Bisham Abbey tomorrow): Backs: T Stimpson (Newcastle), N Beal (Northampton), J Mallinder (Sale), A Adebayo (Bath), T Beim (Sale), J Bentley (Newcastle), P de Glanville (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), N Greenstock (Wasps), M Berry (Bath), M Catt (Bath), M Mapletoft (Gloucester), P Grayson (Northampton), A King (Wasps), A Healey (Leicester), M Dawson (Northampton), K Bracken (Saracens). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), G Rowntree (Leicester), W Green (Wasps), K Yates (Bath), P Vickery (Gloucester), V Ubogu (Bath), M Regan (Bath), P Greening (Gloucester), S Mitchell (Wasps), S Shaw (Wasps), D Grewcock (Saracens), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps), A Diprose (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens), R Jenkins (Harlequins), B Clarke (Richmond), M Corry (Leicester), N Back (Leicester), C Sheasby (Wasps). Selected but will not train (injured): D Rees (Sale), J Mallett (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton).

NEW ZEALAND SQUAD (for nine match tour of Great Britain, 8 Nov to 6 Dec): C Cullen, T Miller, J Wilson, T Umaga, G Osborne, J Lomu, J Stanley, F Bunce, A Ieremia, S McLeod, W Little, C Spencer, A Mehrtens, M Robinson, J Preston, J Marshall, Z Brooke, S Surridge, T Randell, A Hopa, T Blackadder, J Kronfeld, M Carter, A Blowers, R Brooke, I Jones, M Cooksley, C Riechelmann, C Dowd, M Allen, O Brown, C Barrell, G Slater, S Fitzpatrick (capt), N Hewitt, A Oliver.