Rugby Union: Morris withdrawal rocks England: Bristol's untested Bracken steps into scrum-half spot against formidable All Blacks

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The Independent Online
AN AIR of gloom settled over the England camp yesterday as Dewi Morris's congested chest forced his replacement at scrum-half against New Zealand tomorrow by a new cap, the Dublin-born Kyran Bracken, while the All Blacks were naming an unchanged team.

This was nothing personal against Bracken. On the contrary, the 22-year-old Bristol law student has everything Morris has and more, with the critical exception of experience. But injury has so disrupted England's selection and preparation that they seem to be wondering how on earth they can win.

'I'm looking forward to the Budget more than playing New Zealand,' Geoff Cooke, the team manager, said yesterday, knowing that both events would be taxing. 'It's certainly not ideal, but we've just got to get on with it. We can't not turn up.'

As for 'I Vow To Thee, My Country', which the band will play at Will Carling's request as England take the field, Cooke wondered about that too. 'Perhaps it should be 'I Pray To Thee, My Country', shouldn't it, Will?' he enquired of his captain.

If Carling did not quite subscribe to the gallows humour, he sounded fairly grim as well: 'We've been expected to win in the Five Nations and this time we're not favourites. But in our own hearts we have to believe we can do it.'

Morris's withdrawal, along with that before selection of Jeremy Guscott and Martin Bayfield, has reduced to seven the English contingent from the Lions' second-Test win (and third-Test defeat) against New Zealand five months ago.

The only problem for the All Blacks remains Matthew Cooper's groin strain. Laurie Mains, their coach, was so confident of his place-kicker's fitness on Tuesday that he indicated it was virtually definite he would play. By yesterday, Mains was rating Cooper's chance no more than 50-50.

Should the worst happen, Eroni Clarke would come in at inside-centre and the kicking duties would be handed to who else but the 20-year-old Jeff Wilson, who scored three

debut tries against Scotland last Saturday.

Though of Irish birth and parentage, Bracken has never aspired to play for the land of his father and mother. He moved to Liverpool at the age of two, was educated at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire and subsequently represented Jersey at tennis.

'I have Irish blood in me but I've never seen any reason to change,' he said. 'My commitment is to England, where I've played all my rugby.' Bracken has had Irish approaches but playing for England at Under-16, Under-18, Under-21, student and A- team level as well as in both non-cap Tests in Canada last summer has definitively established his loyalty.

Still, there is something ironic in England's replacing a Welsh-born scrum-half with an Irish-born one, though this is nothing new for Bracken since his chance in Canada occurred only when another Welsh-born player, Steve Bates, dropped out. At least Matthew Dawson, who has come on to the bench, was born in England. Birkenhead. That's near Wales and Ireland, isn't it?

NEW ZEALAND (v England, Twickenham, tomorrow): J Timu; J Wilson (both Otago), F Bunce (North Harbour), M Cooper (Waikato), V Tuigamala (Auckland); M Ellis, S Forster (both Otago); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown (all Auckland), S Gordon (Waikato), I Jones (North Auckland), J Joseph, A Pene (both Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland). Replacements: E Clarke (Auckland), J Preston (Wellington), B Larsen (North Harbour), P Henderson (Southland), M Allen (Taranaki), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay).

England's Clark Kent, page 39

(Photograph omitted)

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