Rugby Union: Rodber and Greening add to Woodward worries

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CLIVE WOODWARD is confident that his red rose squad for next month's World Cup is the fittest ever pieced together by an England coach - or rather, he would be if his players were not dropping like injured flies.

Aside from a lingering concern over the precise state of Kyran Bracken's back, Woodward is anxiously waiting for the latest medical bulletins on Tim Rodber, the Northampton lock, and Phil Greening, the Sale hooker, neither of whom left Liverpool in the best of moods after Tuesday's mis- match with the Premiership All-Stars.

Rodber injured an ankle during the first half of the Anfield game and, while x-rays revealed nothing more serious than severe bruising, he has yet to be given the kind of unequivocal all-clear that would put his mind at rest. He will consult a specialist today in an effort to obtain a detailed prognosis. If the specialist can also cast some light on the 1997 Lion's disturbing slump in form - Rodber is in danger of slipping behind his rival for a starting place, Saracens' Danny Grewcock - a perplexed Woodward will be eternally grateful.

Greening missed the Anfield fixture with what was described as a "sore knee". If that diagnosis was accurate, the former Gloucester front-rower should have nothing to worry about. But there is some mysterious double- speak flying around the England camp at present: Phil de Glanville, who led the side on Tuesday, had difficulty leaving the field under his own steam, yet claimed to be suffering only from a "minor problem with a toe". Heaven knows what state he will be in if he catches something serious.

Woodward was given something else to ponder yesterday when the World Cup organisers announced that Andre Watson, the South African referee, would control England's opening pool match with Italy at Twickenham on 2 October.

While the red rose hierarchy were relieved to have avoided Joel Dume, the "anything goes" Frenchman who will referee the Ireland-USA match in Dublin on the same day, they will be aware that Watson effectively whistled them to a depressing Five Nations defeat against Wales at Wembley five months ago.

The opening match of next month's tournament - Wales versus Argentina in Cardiff on 1 October - has gone to Paddy O'Brien, the outstanding official from New Zealand's South Island, while David McHugh, of Ireland, gets an early feel of life under lights when he referees the Fiji-Namibia match in Beziers on the first evening. Of the three English officials involved, Brian Campsall, of Yorkshire, will be the first in action. He must keep try and keep a lid on the match between France and Canada.

Meanwhile, Argentina's World Cup preparations have hit trouble after an extraordinary dispute between the coaches, Alex Wyllie and Hector Mendez, and the country's Rugby Union Council. The governing body has vetoed the squad announced by Wyllie and Mendez a week ago because two players, the full-back Ezequiel Jurado and the wing Facundo Soler, were omitted without their approval. And Woodward thinks he has problems...