Rugby Union: Paul back in squad for France showdown

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The Independent Online
IF HENRY PAUL knows whether he is coming or going at this precise point in his rugby career, he must be equipped with 20-20 vision and the pathfinding skills of Sherpa Tensing. Publicly humiliated at Twickenham last November, when he was substituted 24 minutes into the Cook Cup match against Australia, and ignored during the build-up to the Six Nations opener against Wales, the Gloucester centre was yesterday recalled to the elite England party in preparation for this weekend's test of nerve and sinew against France.

The one-time rugby league international has been the human equivalent of the hokey-cokey since he was first fast-tracked into the squad by Sir Clive Woodward almost three years ago. Passed over for the 2003 World Cup, he was rehabilitated by Woodward's successor, Andy Robinson, for the Tests against Canada, South Africa and the Wallabies last autumn. When he failed to cut it against the latter, it was generally assumed that he had entered the past tense in terms of international recognition.

He was very much present at yesterday's training session, however. Along with three forwards - the Sale loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan, the versatile Bath front-rower Matt Stevens and the Wasps lock Simon Shaw - Paul was added to the mix following Robinson's decision to delay his selection for 24 hours. Concerned by the poverty of England's midfield kicking game during the defeat in Cardiff, the coach was considering promoting Bath's Olly Barkley to a starting position at inside-centre and drafting Paul on to the replacements' bench.

By summoning two props from the "A" squad preparing for Friday night's match with the French in Bath, the management appeared to confirm suspicions of an injury concern over the front row. Graham Rowntree has back problems and was substituted during the second half of Saturday's game while Julian White took a blow to the face and failed to go the distance.

Another area under debate was the back row. England were badly undone here and, as a result, Robinson was pondering recalls for two Leicester loose forwards - Lewis Moody, who would have played last weekend but for a hamstring problem, and Martin Corry, who has not played for anyone since picking up a serious elbow injury six weeks ago. It would be a major leap of faith to include Corry, given his lack of activity. But England need all the experience they can get.

France are also in a fluid situation and there were few clues to their thinking when they trained at Marcoussis yesterday. Dimitri Yachvili shared the scrum-half duties with Pierre Mignoni, while Frederic Michalak replaced Yann Delaigue at outside-half after his rival took the day off to rest a stiff neck. "Can we face England without an experienced goalkicker?" asked the backs coach, Bernard Vivies. "This is the question we must solve."

There was more heat than light about Ireland, too. Eddie O'Sullivan, their coach, named Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy for the match with Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, despite their hamstring problems. Both will be given late fitness tests, which most observers expect them to fail. Jonny O'Connor, the Wasps flanker, is a definite starter.

Wales, meanwhile, have taken the obvious route for their game with Italy in Rome. The starting line-up responsible for the victory over England has been retained, and the only change on the bench is an enforced one: Ian Gough, the Newport-Gwent Dragons lock, for the injured Ryan Jones.

SIX NATIONS TEAMS

IRELAND (v Scotland, Murrayfield, Saturday): G Murphy (Leicester); S Horgan (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), D Hickie (Leinster); R O'Gara (Munster), P Stringer (Munster); R Corrigan (Leinster), S Byrne (Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli), J O'Connor (Wasps), A Foley (Munster). Replacements: F Sheahan (Munster), M Horan (Munster), D O'Callaghan (Munster), E Miller (Leinster), G Easterby (Leinster), D Humphreys (Ulster), G Dempsey (Leinster).

WALES (v Italy, Rome, Saturday): G Thomas (Toulouse, capt); H Luscombe (Newport Gwent Dragons), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), G Henson (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), S Williams (Neath-Swansea Ospreys); S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Davies (Gloucester), A Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), B Cockbain (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), M Owen (Newport Gwent Dragons). Replacements: R McBryde (Llanelli Scarlets), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), I Gough (Newport Gwent Dragons), J Thomas (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), G Cooper (Newport Gwent Dragons), C Sweeney (Newport Gwent Dragons), K Morgan (Newport Gwent Dragons).

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