Rugby Union: Richards stands to deliver: Ojomoh ousted

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The Independent Online
SO Dean Richards did after all have only to stand up to return for England. As, in fact, he played for Leicester against Newcastle as if he had not been away for two minutes, let alone two months, his selection to face Wales at Twickenham next Saturday became a formality when the choice was made at Twickenham yesterday.

Poor Steve Ojomoh; what a difference a week has made. From being singled out by Dick Best, the England coach, for his contribution to a victorious springtime in Paris, he was relegated back to the bench as soon as Best had seen the resurgent Richards. Perhaps Best had been softening a blow he knew must come if Richards were fit. 'I am very disappointed,' Ojomoh murmured yesterday.

Not so Richards, who will extend his England No 8's record to 36 caps in trying to prevent a Welsh Grand Slam and to inspire a home win by 16 or more points that would give England the championship. 'There will be a big jump from a club match to an international and ideally I would have wanted a few more games,' Richards said. 'I have a lot of sympathy for Steve Ojomoh.'

There speaks a man who himself knows the pain of being dropped - in Richards's case for the whole of last season's Five Nations' Championship and most strikingly for England's push to the World Cup final in 1991. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of beating France, Geoff Cooke, who will retire as team manager at the weekend, was considering an early choice which would effectively have ruled him out.

Richards would clearly have been rushed into the Paris match if it had been feasible, but Ojomoh's dynamic display in his second international appeared to have ended the post-Ireland emergency. As this was the mighty Dean, we should have known better. 'It doesn't matter that he's been missing for eight weeks,' Cooke said. 'He has vast experience and a massive psychological presence.'

This was Cooke's valedictory selection after seven seasons and if there is one responsibility he will be glad to give up more than any other it is the passing- on of bad news. 'It's the part of the job I hate, but Ojomoh has done everything asked of him and will have many more caps for England,' he said.

Richards would have been present all along but for dislocating an elbow on 15 January, which first let John Hall into the team against Scotland and then Ojomoh against Ireland and France. His recall alongside Tim Rodber and Ben Clarke reunites the back row who did so much to undermine New Zealand in November.

'Dean has been one of my favourite players, a core player throughout my career even though occasionally I've left him out,' Cooke said. Back in 1988, the manager wanted to convert him to the second row but received a dusty response, which caused him to turn instead to one Paul Ackford.

Whatever the manager's professed enthusiasm, non-selection as well as injury has restricted Richards's caps at a time when contemporaries have regularly been clocking up half-centuries. Next Saturday, Brian Moore, the hooker, will become the fifth Englishman to reach 50.

The debate over one English change is as nothing compared with that in France, which culminated in a selectorial paroxysm reminiscent of the old days. Accepting that he could well be sacked if his side lose to Scotland at Murrayfield, Pierre Berbizier, the coach, yesterday did what he threatened by getting rid of the half-backs, but he also sacked his captain.

At least Olivier Roumat already has a guarantee that he will be on tour in the summer. 'The role of being both captain and player was too much,' Guy Laporte, the manager, said. 'He now has to prove he is still the best second row in France and he will have plenty of time to do that in New Zealand.'

In his place, Olivier Brouzet - at 6ft 8in the tallest lock in French rugby - is one of three new caps. The scrum-half Alain Macabiau and the centre Yann Delaigue are the others among a total of seven changes of personnel and position.

ENGLAND (v Wales, Twickenham, 19 March): D Pears (Harlequins); I Hunter (Northampton), P de Glanville (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath). Replacements: M Catt, S Barnes (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, S Ojomoh (Bath).

FRANCE (v Scotland, Murrayfield, 19 March): J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt), P Sella (Agen), Y Delaigue (Toulon), W Techoueyres (Bordeaux Univ); T Lacroix (Dax), A Macabiau (Perpignan); L Benezech (Racing Club), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), L Seigne (Merignac), O Brouzet, O Merle (Grenoble), P Benetton, A Benazzi (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: E N'tamack (Toulouse), P Montlaur (Agen), F Galthie (Colomiers), X Blond (Racing Club), F Landreau (Grenoble), P Gallart (Beziers).

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