Rugby Union: Rowell sizes up Back's suitability

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Golden as the afterglow of England's mammoth win over Canada may be, the team manager yesterday candidly admitted his continuing problems as he named a squad of 33 from whom he anticipates his 26 for the World Cup in South Africa will come.

Although Jack Rowell is happy to have seen England's World Cup stock rise, he is uncomfortably conscious of the thinness of the back-up for the now-indispensable Rob Andrew at outside-half, the dearth of wing challengers to the Underwood brothers and, above all, the apparent insolubility of the back-row conundrum.

The latter subject, in particular, will be the focus of his attentions during the training weekend on Lanzarote over the new year, more especially how to augment the Rodber-Richards-Clarke combination with pace without losing power.

Although Neil Back, an out-and-out open side and no power-runner, was at his exceptional best for the Barbarians against South Africa, Rowell is clearly unconvinced that he can do the job England require.

So Lanzarote for Back will have to be a familiar exercise in proving the manager - who used to be one of his biggest fans when both were involved with England B - wrong. Derek Eves, the other open-side contender, has fallen from favour and instead it is Steve Ojomoh who, other things being equal, appears to be Rowell's preference.

"The more power-runners we have in the team the better" is Rowell's general principle, and Ojomoh was omitted against the Canadians to accommodate Dean Richards at No 8, with Ben Clarke reluctantly returning from eight to seven.

Rowell shares the doubts of his predecessor, Geoff Cooke, about Back: "Perhaps he's not big enough." But he is also not sold on big Ben: "Is Clarke a bit too big?" Which leaves Ojomoh as the nearest he can find to a cross between the two: "He is the one in the middle."

Meanwhile, the Bath captain, John Hall, one of Rowell's all-time favourite players, has also re-emerged in the back-row pecking-order after last season being officially deemed unlikely to act on the fast South African going.

For this, Hall can thank the crushing English defeat in Cape Town which followed the win in Pretoria in June. Rowell has clearly been led to question the moral fibre of some of his players.

"One query I have, having seen the second Test in South Africa, is that we have eight outstanding forwards but how many are going to compete under the most intense of pressure?" Rowell said. "John Hall is one who would and if he can cope with the firm grounds he can cope with the rest of the world."

The manager is also considering his options at full-back after Mike Catt's effortless, two-try entrance in place of the injured Paul Hull during the Canada match.

Catt's principal role has been as Andrew's outside-half deputy but he was so good last Saturday that Rowell agrees he has every chance of being full-back against Ireland next month and has even spoken to Hall about Catt's playing full-back rather than outside-half for Bath. There is a complication, however: the Bath full-back, Jonathan Callard, is also in the squad for Lanzarote.

Of the previous squad the injured full-backs Ian Hunter and David Pears were not considered and Matthew Dawson has been discarded along with Eves, the third scrum-half place going instead to the Wasps veteran, Steve Bates.

The Rugby Football Union yesterday announced its opposition to plans for a pan-European competition along the lines of the southern-hemisphere Super 10. This appears to make a meeting that Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, is to have with representatives of Carnegie Sports, the promoters, on Friday something of a waste of time.

Carnegie's idea is to bring together the leading English, Welsh and French clubs with Scottish and Irish provincial sides.

"These agencies must understand we will organise and plan and decide who, if anyone, is going to help us put it into practice," Wood said.

"But at the moment we have a very congested programme and the Rugby Union is not interested."

The RFU is to consider experimenting with red and yellow cards in Courage Championship matches now that the Five Nations have decided to introduce the cards during the internationals in the new year. The cards will also be used by referees in the World Cup next summer.

ENGLAND SQUAD: Full-backs: J Callard (Bath), P Hull (Bristol); Wings: N Beal (Northampton), D Hopley (Wasps), R Underwood, T Underwood (Leicester); Centres: W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville, J Guscott (Bath), S Potter (Leicester); Outside-ha

l ves: R Andrew (Wasps), M Catt (Bath); Scrum-halves: S Bates (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol), D Morris (Orrell). Forwards: Props: J Leonard (Harlequins), J Mallett (Bath), G Rowntree (Leicester), V Ubogu (Bath); Hookers: G Dawe (Bath), B Moore (Harlequins), M Regan (Bristol); Locks: M Bayfield (Northampton), M Johnson (Leicester), N Redman (Bath), S Shaw (Bristol); Back row: N Back (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps), J Hall, S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton).

ENGLAND UNDER-21 (v New Zealand Under-21 XV, Northampton, tonight): T Stimpson (West Hartlepool); A Healey (Orrell), N Greenstock (Wasps), M Denney (Bristol), J Keyter (Harlequins); N Ryan (Waterloo), A Gomarsall (Wasps); M Volland (Northampton), N McCa

r thy (Bath), N Webber (Moseley), G Archer, R Metcalfe, M Corry (Newcastle Gosforth, capt), G Seeley, A Pountney (Northampton). Replacements: E Anderson (Moseley), S Howard (Blackheath), M Chudleigh (Bristol), P Shadbolt (Saracens), S Kneale (West Hartlepool), W Green (Wasps), R Poll (Moseley).

ENGLAND XV 1995 AUSTRALIA TOUR ITINERARY: 20 May South Australia (Adelaide); 24 May Victoria (Melbourne); 28 May Queensland (Brisbane); 31 May Australian Universities (Sydney); 3 June New South Wales Country (Newcastle); 7 June Australian XV (Brisbane).

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