Rugby Union: The team in waiting

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The Independent Online
CELTIC RIVALS habitually bemoan the strength in depth which distinguishes English rugby from their own. Usually, an injury to a first-choice Irish, Welsh or Scottish player leaves the deprived national coach feeling that he is patching up a broken limb with elastoplast.

However, the myth that England on the other hand can replace any absentee with an equally proficient performer was exploded somewhat during last summer's tour of the southern hemisphere. The presence of dozens of foreign players in the Premiership was instantly blamed for this bareness in the cupboard, but a few months later it has not stopped the England coach Clive Woodward from naming a heavily populated squad to prepare for the campaigns ahead.

Once again the temptation to talk about an embarrassment of riches has returned. Even though the team who took the field against Holland yesterday in Huddersfield were minus five key players through injury - the captain Lawrence Dallaglio, the wings Tony Underwood and David Rees, the scrum- half Kyran Bracken and the young prop Phil Vickery - the competition is as fierce as ever.

Leaving aside the clubs in Premiership One who played either yesterday or on Friday evening, it is possible to select an England team from the seven clubs in league or Anglo-Welsh action today who would give the side who faced Holland a run for their money.

With the proviso that four of the men who started yesterday on the England replacements' bench are available, then the side would include seven members of last year's triumphant Lions squad and just one uncapped player, the Saracens hooker George Chuter.

Of course, a little creativity is required to produce the strongest line- up. Tim Rodber, who would vie with Tony Diprose for the captaincy, is selected in the back-row despite this season's stated preference for life as a lock, and the Newcastle fly-half Jonny Wilkinson partners Saracens' Steve Ravenscroft at centre to enable Alex King to wear the No 10 shirt.

The players who fail to make the final muster also make interesting reading, headed by a quartet from Gloucester who all toured with England during the summer - Dave Sims, Robert Fidler, Scott Benton and Tony Windo. Leicester's Stuart Potter, another tourist, and his fellow centre, Matt Allen of Northampton, are surplus while the challenge of Bedford's talented young fly-half Tony Yapp is considered a touch premature.

So here it is - the Independent on Sunday's alternative England XV from today's club matches, guaranteed to trigger Celtic envy and have their coaches reaching for the bottle as well as the Elastoplast:

T Stimpson (Leicester); N Beal (Northampton), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), S Ravenscroft (Saracens), P Sampson; A King, A Gomarsall (all Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), G Chuter (Saracens), W Green, S Shaw (both Wasps), D Grewcock (Saracens), T Rodber (Northampton), A Diprose, R Hill (both Saracens).