Rugby Union: Woodward in positive mood over Dallaglio

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AS FAR AS Clive Woodward is concerned, Lawrence Dallaglio is ready to play for his country again and as much as the England camp do not want to think about, let alone discuss, his impending disciplinary hearing, circumstances dictate otherwise.

With Tests looming against the United States and Canada on 21 and 28 August at Twickenham, not to mention the deadline at the end of the month for naming Rugby World Cup squads, the outcome of Dallaglio's two-day disciplinary hearing is critical to Woodward's plans.

The date of the hearing has been set for 25 and 26 August - at the request of the former England captain's legal team, some of whom are reportedly on holiday at the moment - when Dallaglio will answer charges of bringing the game into disrepute and that he took recreational drugs during the Lions tour last year.

The delay in the hearings appeared to be as much of a surprise to Dallaglio as to the RFU, who had wanted an early settlement of the affair. And Woodward said yesterday: "I think Lawrence was surprised. We all were."

Woodward wants to play him against the United States and dropped a broad hint about his thinking when he said: "I am not even thinking about him not being available. I would not have involved Lawrence in the preparations for the United States match if I did not believe he would be found innocent of the charges. I would have no qualms about playing him against the US. He is fully focused on his rugby."

Woodward said yesterday, at the start of a week's training in Yorkshire, that England have sought a ruling from the World Cup committee in the event that Dallaglio is found guilty of one or both charges and is consequently suspended, but lodges an appeal.

With a 31 August deadline for the naming of World Cup squads, England want to clarify the situation. As the rules stand, if a player is injured after that date he can be replaced, subject to ratification by the Rugby World Cup committee. But it is not clear what happens if a player drops out for any other reason.

England would not want to name him in the 30-man squad only to find that, at some point after the cut-off date, he had lost an appeal and was no longer available through suspension (and if found guilty of the drugs charge the International Board's recommendation is a two-year ban) and that they could not call up a replacement.

England's second-rower Tim Rodber has relinquished the captaincy of Northampton. Another England man, scrum-half Matt Dawson, is tipped to take over and an announcement is expected today.

The Argentine international Eduardo Simone yesterday became big-spending Bristol's latest summer signing. The 24-year-old centre Simone, has agreed a two-year contract and follows fellow countryman Agustin Pichot to the Memorial Stadium. He will link up with Bristol after this autumn's World Cup.