Rugby Union: Woodward excites with imaginative declaration of intent

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The Independent Online
If fortune favours the bold, Clive Woodward will win tomorrow night's Lottery jackpot as well as beat the pants off the Wallabies on Saturday. England's new rugby union coach has decided to unleash five new caps against Australia, a radical selection applauded by Chris Hewett.

No one can accuse the new boy of betraying his principles. Clive Woodward's first England line-up may be wet behind the ears - indeed, his more conservatively- minded critics will say it is still submerged in amniotic fluid - but there is sufficient embryonic talent in every area of the side to ensure a compelling rugby experience at Twickenham this weekend. The die has been cast. There is no turning back.

Woodward always promised to start his career as national coach with a clean sheet of paper and he could hardly have been more true to his word. The safety- first shibboleths of Rowellism have been cast to the four winds; clearly, experience counts for little and reputation for nothing under this Twickenham regime. Current form has been the sole arbiter and that explains the absence of Tim Stimpson, John Bentley, Austin Healey, Graham Rowntree, Mark Regan, Simon Shaw and Tim Rodber - every one a Lion in the summer, every one an outsider now.

Phil de Glanville has also lost his place in the side, less than a fortnight after conceding the captaincy to Lawrence Dallaglio. The Bath centre's fall from grace was widely forecast from the moment Tim Horan, Matt Burke and company reduced his defensive game to rubble in Sydney four months ago, but ironically enough, his recent upturn in performance marks him out as the unluckiest of all Woodward's many losers.

However, there is no denying the potential impact of a midfield reshaped and remodelled by a coach who knows more than most about that particular theatre of rugby combat. Mike Catt moves from outside-half to outside centre, Will Greenwood wins an overdue first cap alongside him and Alex King, the most subtle strategist in the English game, gets a big-time opportunity at stand-off. If it works, it will be devastating. If it goes pear-shaped, all three are sufficiently secure in the tackle to defend like dervishes.

Elsewhere, Matt Perry makes his international bow at full-back - Woodward has admired the 20-year-old Bath player's cool-handed versatility since first coaching him at the Recreation Ground last winter - while the free- scoring David Rees, smack in the middle of a hot streak at Sale, gets a gallop on the right wing. There is a new look to the back five of the scrum, too, where Garath Archer's mean aggression is restored to the engine room and Tony Diprose's footballing skills are recognised at No 8.

If Woodward has taken his life in hands in any single area, it is up there at the sharp end. Many a Premiership club would hesitate before naming two rookies in the same front row and by plumping for Andy Long at hooker and Will Green on the tight head, the selectors have created something of a hostage to fortune. Jason Leonard, a shadow of his old self at club level in recent weeks, will have to rediscover every last ounce of his authority when he confronts a heavy Wallaby threesome in his favoured position of loose-head.

"I have picked a team that contains the best 15 players in their positions in England at the moment," insisted Woodward yesterday, politely ignoring the fact that Perry, Catt and Leonard have all been handed roles different to those they perform at club level. "There are some unlucky players, but they could easily get a chance; there are four big Tests in the schedule for the next four weeks and I will be amazed if those 15 who start on Saturday are still there when we complete this run, against New Zealand on 6 December.

"But I know this new side will give me a feeling of confidence and excitement as I approach the Australian match. There are no experiments, no cheap caps; I would never select anyone just for the sake of finding out if he was good enough. What we have are young players like Matt Perry and Andy Long, who have convinced me that they can do a job in a winning England team."

Chastened, not to say embarrassed, by their defeat in Argentina at the weekend, the 27-strong Australian party flew in yesterday. Led by a coach, Rod Macqueen, whose lack of experience at international level mirrors almost exactly that of his opposite number, they shrugged a collective shoulder at the news of England's bravura selection and shook the long flight out of their systems with a light work-out in Windsor.

"We're not playing well," Macqueen admitted. "The important thing from our point of view is to concentrate on our own game. With five new caps, England will be looking to play a different style from the one we've been used to in recent years and I think Clive wants a free-flowing match on Saturday, just as we do. But the essential thing for us is to get closer to a pattern of play that is unique to the Wallabies."

ENGLAND (v Australia, Twickenham, Saturday): M Perry (Bath); D Rees (Sale), M Catt (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), A Adebayo (Bath); A King (Wasps), K Bracken (Saracens); J Leonard (Harlequins), A Long (Bath), W Green (Wasps), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), A Diprose (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: P de Glanville (Bath), A Healey, G Rowntree, R Cockerill, N Back (all Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens).

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