Rugby Union: Woodward counts on `iron' Ryan

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The Independent Online
SIX weeks ago, John Mitchell was so appalled by the performance of the Red Rose forwards as they slipped effortlessly into reverse gear against the French in Paris that he felt moved to question their manhood. "You're too damned soft," snarled England's assistant coach before presenting his chastened charges with the following stark choice: either start kicking some rear ends or take up gardening.

Well, there will be nothing soft about the England eight at Murrayfield on Sunday; indeed, Mitchell would be well advised to wear a hard hat in training over the next couple of days. Dean Ryan, the big bad wolf of the Allied Dunbar Premiership, is back at No 8 for the first time in six long wilderness years and judging by the glint in his eye during yesterday's run-out at Twickenham, he will have to be physically restrained from rucking the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards off their own bagpipes.

As befits a man raised in the ball-breaking rugby environment of New Zealand's north island, Mitchell looked well pleased with Ryan's sudden promotion from the back of beyond. "I think we're all aware that we're about to walk into an ambush, a hijack, at Murrayfield this weekend," he said. "The Scots are the sporting equivalent of a wounded animal and any side coached by Jim Telfer tends to be well up for the big occasion, so physical presence is going to be very important from our point of view."

If Newcastle United have a hard, niggly, uncompromising bag of trouble in David Batty, the Newcastle Falcons have their own heavier, elongated version in Ryan. Now going on 32, he squared up to all comers for both Saracens and Wasps before adopting honorary Geordie status a little over two years ago and it is somehow typical of the man that two of his three previous England caps should have been earned amid the blood-curdling rugby mayhem of a Buenos Aires Test.

"I can't say I've spent much time thinking about whatever England future I might have," he said yesterday. "In one sense, you always feel you have an outside chance while you're playing Premiership rugby, just because you go up against current internationals every week of the season. Having said that, I half wondered whether the England scene might have passed me by. Once Clive Woodward called me into the squad last week, however, I considered myself in with a chance.

"My club form has given me my place in the team so you won't see a different Dean Ryan on Sunday, just because it's an international. Previous England coaches have tried to force things on me, but Clive wants me to play the game I play for Newcastle and that suits me fine. I'll try my utmost to be myself, to do what I do week in, week out. If I can achieve that, I'll be happy. It will be up to the coaches to decide whether I'm worth sticking with."

Ryan replaces the injured Saracen, Richard Hill, as one of four enforced changes to the side that put 60 humiliating points on Wales at Twickenham a month ago. "It was a close call, what with Tim Rodber and Tony Diprose in the frame," admitted Woodward. "However, I'm a great believer in looking at people in pressure situations and I need to see how Dean responds. I know a fair bit about the others; I started the season with Tony, who is still on the bench, and as for Tim, I've told him that I want more pace in his game. "

Woodward's other casualty-inspired tinkerings were more straightforward. Adedayo Adebayo returns on the left wing, four months after being told that he was not quite quick enough for Test rugby, while Matt Dawson fills in for Kyran Bracken at scrum-half. In the front row, Phil Vickery's shoulder injury gives Darren Garforth another chance at tight head.

There has been no such injury fall-out north of the border so Telfer and his fellow selectors agreed yesterday to keep faith with the starting line-up that could and should have accounted for Wales at Wembley. That gives the formidable Ryan an unexpected opportunity to test the mettle of three of his clubmates: Alan Tait, Gary Armstrong and Doddie Weir. If they have any sense, they will call him "Sir".

ENGLAND (v Scotland, Sunday, Murrayfield): M Perry (Bath); A Healey (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), A Adebayo (Bath); P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton); J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (all Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), D Ryan (Newcastle), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: P De Glanville (Bath), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), S Benton (Gloucester), G Rowntree (Leicester), D West (Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens), A Diprose (Saracens).

SCOTLAND: D Lee (London Scottish); T Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle Falcons), G Townsend (Northampton), F Longstaff (Dundee High School FP); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle Falcons, capt); D Hilton (Bath), G Bulloch (West of Scotland ), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps), D Weir (Newcastle Falcons), R Wainwright (Dundee HSFP), E Peters (Bath), A Roxburgh (Kelso). Replacements: H Gilmour (Heriot's FP), C Murray (Hawick), A Nicol (Bath), B Pountney (Northampton), S Grimes (Watsonians), G Graham (Newcastle Falcons), G Ellis (Currie).

Scott Gibbs has withdrawn from the Wales side for Saturday's Five Nations' Championship game against Ireland in Dublin with a shoulder injury. Cardiff's Leigh Davies comes in to win his 17th cap, while Llanelli's Neil Boobyer takes Davies' place on the bench.