Rugby Union: Woodward opts for De Glanville over Guscott

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HE MAY be the Prince of Centres, but someone else is occupying the throne. Jeremy Guscott is a double Lion, the proud owner of 62 England caps and one of the great individualists of the post-war era. As of yesterday, however, he is no longer up there with the Gods, but down there among the red rose replacements. Clive Woodward, the national coach, has chosen a midfield partnership Phil de Glanville and Will Greenwood to face Italy in the opening World Cup fixture at Twickenham on Saturday.

If Woodward's announcement was not quite of bombshell proportions, there was definitely something of the depth charge about it. Guscott is suffering from a minor groin strain - an injury that allowed the coach to minimise the shock of his omission - but his presence on the bench suggests that even had he been fully fit, he would have struggled to make the starting line-up. Greenwood was always a likely choice, but de Glanville's outstanding recent form appears to have upset the midfield applecart.

De Glanville, a former England captain of recent vintage, has never been one to gloat, but he would have been less than human had he not treated himself to a smile of self-satisfaction on hearing yesterday's news. He was by common consent the form England centre during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, yet he failed to oust his Bath club-mate from the side when the business end of the tournament began to unfold. On his own admission, one or two selectorial decisions left him devastated.

Guscott's frustration is not yet of the same magnitude, but he must know in his bones that if his two rivals cut the dogged Italians apart this weekend, England and New Zealand will fight out the key Pool B match on Saturday week without him. "It's very disappointing to miss out on this one," he admitted. "I've worked so hard and, leaving aside the groin problem, I've never been fitter. But I haven't been able to train flat out for some time and anyway, I fully appreciate that the England midfield is an incredibly competitive area."

Woodward, meanwhile, was his usual elusive self on the Guscott issue. "Jerry hasn't been full-on since feeling a twinge after the warm-up Test against America and I didn't want to prepare for the Italy match with anyone who wasn't 100 per cent fit," he explained. Then, almost in the next breath, he added: "Of course, he may not have made the side anyway. I've picked what I consider to be a full-strength team; during my time as coach, England have never played badly with Phil in the side." By way of further elucidation, he volunteered this last thought: "Remember, this is the first game of the World Cup, not the final." So that's clear then.

The coach's other close calls were generally on the conservative side. Richard Cockerill plays at hooker ahead of the looser, more inventive, but less disciplined Phil Greening; Jason Leonard will win his 74th cap at loose-head prop, which means Graham Rowntree must wait a little longer to make a 24th appearance for his country; and Danny Grewcock continues his burgeoning boiler-house partnership with Martin Johnson, even though Tim Rodber is back in harness following ankle problems.

As for the crucial scrum-half position, Woodward has decided to take on the ultra-physical Italians without cover on the bench. "Austin Healey will come off the wing in the event of an injury to Matt Dawson," he said. "The statisticians of chance might say I'm taking a slightly greater risk, but I'm happy to go along this road. If both Matt and Austin get crocked, De Glanville will come into scrum-half. It's not something I foresee happening, but Phil played at No 9 until his late teens. He knows pretty much what he's doing in that position."

The Italians were scheduled to name their side this afternoon, but Woodward already knows exactly what to expect from an Azzurri outfit chastened by a string of humiliating reverses last season.

ENGLAND (v Italy, World Cup Group B, Twickenham, Saturday: M Perry (Bath), D Luger (Saracens), W Greenwood (Leicester), P De Glanville (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), M Dawson (Northampton), J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester), P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), D Grewcock (Saracens), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: N Beal (Northampton), J Guscott (Bath), P Grayson (Northampton), M Corry (Leicester), G Rowntree (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), P Greening (Sale).