Rugby Union: Richards the final issue for Cooke

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The Independent Online
THE England selectors have after all restricted themselves to a squad for the Five Nations decider against Wales on Saturday week, but it differs from the 21 who appeared in France only with the addition of Dean Richards. The team will now be named as usual at training at Twickenham on Sunday, Wales's at Cardiff Arms Park tomorrow.

In fact the possibility that England's most-capped No 8 might just be fit enough to face the Welsh is the only issue for Geoff Cooke as he winds up for his final game as manager, though if Steve Ojomoh were to have to make way it would be one of the grosser injustices of Cooke's 49-match tenure.

This shows how rapidly perceptions can change. After England's defeat by Ireland, Richards's return from a dislocated elbow was patently thought imperative, but when Richards failed to make it Ojomoh made such a major contribution to the subsequent victory in Paris that his absence no longer seemed to matter so much.

Richards has not played for more than seven weeks and, although he has been pencilled into the Leicester side for Saturday's First Division match against Newcastle Gosforth, it is by no means certain that he will play.

Yesterday the Welsh Rugby Union attempted to cash in on the sudden resurgence in the performance of its national team by launching a lottery with the specific intention of dissuading leading players from taking rugby league's shilling.

The changing times in once-amateur rugby union are graphically illustrated by the WRU's aim to generate almost pounds 1.5m with 'a significant part' of the proceeds going into a players' trust fund, a plan that depends on the Welsh public regarding this as a worthy cause - which they probably will if their boys complete the Grand Slam at Twickenham.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Wales, Twickenham, 19 March): Full-back: D Pears (Harlequins); Wings: I Hunter (Northampton), R Underwood (Leicester); Centres: W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville, M Catt (Bath); Outside-halves: R Andrew (Wasps), S Barnes (Bath); Scrum-halves: D Morris (Orrell), K Bracken (Bristol); Props: J Leonard (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), G Rowntree (Leicester); Hookers: B Moore (Harlequins), G Dawe (Bath); Locks: M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath); Back row: T Rodber (Northampton), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath), D Ryan (Wasps).