Rugby Union: Rowell looking for a new England

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The Independent Online
Two new caps, four changes of personnel and another two of position in the team named last night to face Western Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday week amount to drastic surgery by recent England standards - more akin, in fact, to the bad old days of the Eighties than the stability which has served so well in the Nineties.

Such, then, is the difficulty caused to Jack Rowell, whose managership has been mainly frustration, by his proper insistence that England find the means to play a rugby of dynamic movement rather than the attrition that likewise had served them so well. Last month's defeat by South Africa appears to have exploded a few more theories.

One is that Mike Catt is the one to exploit the threequarter resources so often left underexploited, at any rate for the time being. "We have not given up on Mike Catt at outside-half," Rowell suggested when the announcement was made before England trained at Marlow.

Catt reverts - one might say is relegated - to full-back to accommodate Paul Grayson in half-back unison with his Northampton partner, Matthew Dawson. Lawrence Dallaglio is the third newcomer; having impressed on his brief debut as a replacement blind-side flanker against the Springboks, he will play on the open side where he has now undertaken to play for Wasps.

Graham Rowntree's claim to be loose-head prop could no longer be withstood, leaving the choice at tight head between moving Jason Leonard across or Victor Ubogu staying put. After the strictures to which Rowell subjected Ubogu before the South Africa match, this was not too hard a choice.

Quite apart from the general uncertainty about how a new-look - though, according to Rowell, not experimental - team will go, there remains one specific uncertainty. After two yellow cards, Mark Regan is due before the Gloucestershire disciplinary committee on Tuesday; if, as is probable, he is suspended, Graham Dawe will come in for his fifth cap at hooker.

Grayson is a 24-year-old Lancastrian, who has been playing rugby only six years and was once a semi-professional footballer with Accrington Stanley. He played himself into this team with his performance for the Midlands against the Samoans last Saturday. His accurate place-kicking was critical in the decision to discard Jonathan Callard, though Grayson would never have been selected without his perceived capacity to launch a back line.

Curiously, Grayson was not known as a running outside-half until Northampton went into the Second Division this season and started beating everyone by 50 points. He first came to public attention by kicking Bath to a famous cup defeat by Waterloo three years ago and did little to dispel the negative impression after he became a Saint.

Dawson, on the other hand, demonstrated his pedigree from the moment he came into the Northampton side, even when he was having to play out of position in the centre. Rowell said that he would probably have displaced Kyran Bracken whatever had happened when Samoa played the Midlands; in which case his exquisite personal contribution provided the most handsome endorsement the manager could have wished.

Rodber's mediocre showing before he departed the Springbok Test implied he was the one under pressure from Dallaglio but as soon as he was restored to fitness and then form - again against the Samoans for the Midlands - the attention shifted to Andy Robinson, mercilessly relegated to the bench (along with the other three discards) after winning his first cap in six years.

England squad

(v Western Samoa at Twickenham on 16 December)

M Catt (Bath); D Hopley (Wasps), J Guscott (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson, M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: J Callard, P de Glanville (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), V Ubogu, G Dawe, A Robinson (Bath).