Rugby Union: Johnson `as good a leader as Dallaglio'

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The Independent Online
THE CHANCES of Lawrence Dallaglio regaining the England captaincy looked a little remote yesterday after the coach, Clive Woodward, sang the praises of Martin Johnson, who was appointed in May for the Test against Australia and right through to the end of the World Cup in November.

This was after Dallaglio was forced to step down following allegations of drug-taking and pushing in a national newspaper. Speaking on BBC Radio, Woodward said: "I am very, very pleased with Martin Johnson. I have to say he has done a superb job in very difficult circumstances. He did a great job in Australia. He is just as good as Lawrence, if not better."

Although not ruling out a possible return as leader, providing Dallaglio is cleared by an independent panel of the allegations, Woodward explained: "Lawrence is not the England captain any more. Martin will captain the team through to the World Cup and we will have a look after that at the whole state of English rugby and how we have done.

"I have to wait and see what the panel comes up with and I am going to go along with that. Lawrence has stepped a little bit out of line in what he has done, so it is going to be very difficult for him. It's obviously been a pretty lonely time for him the last few months.

"Johnno will captain the team and the most important thing for Lawrence is to get himself back in the England squad and be cleared and able to play. I think it is wrong to rule anything out. But I don't think Lawrence is bothered at all about captaining England, he just wants to play."

England's three big injury worries, Will Greenwood (groin), Phil Vickery (neck) and Paul Grayson (stress fracture of pelvis) all came through Monday's gruelling fitness tests with no problems.

Woodward said: "We had a session of full fitness tests and everyone came through it OK. We have a couple of games at the end of August and I am hoping those three players, Greenwood, Vickery and Grayson, will have a run in them. I announce the squad on 1 September."

Greenwood's recovery from a long-standing groin condition is remarkable. In desperation at the beginning of June the Leicester centre went to the Munich clinic of homeopath Dr Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, who had transformed the golfer Jose-Maria Olazabal from a near cripple into this year's US Masters champion. On the recommendation of Muller-Wohlfahrt Greenwood underwent a couple of minor operations.

After that came a series of injections and treatment. Greenwood, who last played for England against Italy last November, is now on course for a welcome England return.

Yesterday England announced an extra match to bring their series of warm- up games to five. An England World Cup Squad XV will play a similarly entitled team from the United States at Northampton's Franklin's Gardens on 17 August. The Test side will then take on the US at Twickenham on Saturday, 21 August, and Canada a week later. They meet a Premiership All-Star XV at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC, on 7 September, and then they will face another Premiership select side at Twickenham on 18 September.

England's rugby season will have begun by then and last night a meeting of First and Second Divisions clubs agreed to reduce Allied Dunbar Premiership One from 14 to 12 clubs. All that is now needed is for the London Irish takeover of Richmond and London Scottish to be completed, then English First Division Rugby and the Rugby Football Union can finally agree the fixture list.

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