Rugby Union: Woodward's England balancing act

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The Independent Online
TOGETHER, THEY would form the backbone of a seriously useful Premiership side: Tim Stimpson, Nick Beal, Martyn Wood, Trevor Woodman, Will Green, Garath Archer, Ben Clarke and Joe Worsley. But rivalry, not togetherness, will be the flavour of the moment in south Devon today when Clive Woodward, the England coach, announces his 30-strong party for this autumn's World Cup. The eight fringe players are in direct competition for four places and those who miss out will look back on all that exhausting male bonding at the Royal Marines' outdoor torture chamber, otherwise known as Lympstone, and weep into their beer.

Woodward settled on two-thirds of his party as long ago as last Christmas and a handful of others have either convinced him of their fitness - Will Greenwood, Paul Grayson - or forced a foot in the door through sheer quality of recent performance. Phil Vickery, Phil Greening and Danny Grewcock fall into the latter category and can expect a seat on the team bus, as opposed to one of the coach's "Dear John" e-mails.

Which leaves the final few bits and pieces. If Kyran Bracken, the most complete scrum-half in England if not the most resilient, is considered to have a better than even chance of recovering from back trouble by the middle of next month, Wood the Wasp will pack his bags and buzz off back to London. As for the remainder, everything depends on Woodward's balance between backs and forwards - and, indeed, the balance between different sections of the pack.

If Woodward fancies Leicester's Corry as an emergency second row as well as a back-up No 8, he may well decide to omit Archer on fitness grounds. That would virtually ensure a place for both Stimpson and Beal, who between them offer just enough - full-back cover, wing cover, goal-kicking cover for Grayson and Jonny Wilkinson - to justify joint inclusion. Under those circumstances, there will be straight fights between Woodman and Green for the remaining front-row position - Green, such a talented footballer, would offer rather more off the bench - and between Clarke and Worsley as the fifth back-rower. Clarke, an absolute brick amid the rubble of last year's southern hemisphere tour, deserves a last World Cup hurrah.

Whatever Woodward comes up with this afternoon, he will have selected from strength. Jean-Claude Skrela and Pierre Villepreux were not in that happy position when they revealed their hand yesterday. The French are in a rare old state - witness their desperate final half-hour in Cardiff last Saturday - and a quick glance at the Tricolore 30, drawn from no fewer than 14 clubs, raises more questions about those who failed to make it than about those who did. Gomes, Lombard, Giordani, Comba, Aucagne, Carbonneau, Laussucq, Marconnet, Cleda, Benetton, Castel, Raynaud: all of them featured last season and all are now forgotten men.

Another big league World Cup casualty is Tom Bowman, the Wallaby second row who, in partnership with the great John Eales, formed the most powerful engine room in the game as recently as this time last year. Bowman has been struggling for fitness of late; indeed, he lost his Test place to both John Welborn and Mark Connors during the summer. His demise remains on the startling side of extraordinary, however, especially as the aggressive Welborn has also been overlooked.

Eales has recovered fully from the horrible shoulder injury he suffered while completing a weights session in a Brisbane gym last winter; he returns as captain, goal-kicker, line-out specialist and all-round genius and will chase a second World Cup winners' medal to add to 1991. Steve Larkham, the brilliant ACT Brumbies outside-half, is also included after a lengthy spell on the treatment table.

There are no great surprises in the All Blacks squad; John Hart, the New Zealand coach, resisted the urge to sack the lot of them in the aftermath of the unexpected but supremely thorough Bledisloe Cup hiding dished out by the Wallabies in Sydney at the weekend. Ian Jones and Glen Osborne, two influential members of the silver fern brigade at the 1995 tournament, are back in the frame, and the wing contingent includes Christian Cullen, Tana Umaga and some bloke by the name of Lomu. Quite a burly chap, by all accounts.


IRELAND: Backs: C O'Shea, G Dempsey, J Bishop, M Mostyn, J Topping, J Bell, K Maggs, M Mullins, B O'Driscoll, E Elwood, D Humphreys, B O'Meara, T Tierney. Forwards: P Clohessy, R Corrigan, J Fitzpatrick, A McKeen, P Wallace, R Nesdale, K Wood, R Casey, J Davidson, P Johns, M O'Kelly, T Brennan, D Corkery, K Dawson, E Miller, D O'Cuinneagain (capt), A Ward.

AUSTRALIA: Backs: M Burke, G Gregan, N Grey, D Herbert, T Horan, R Kafer, S Larkham, C Latham, J Little, J Roff, B Tune, C Whitaker, S Staniforth. Forwards: A Blades, D Crowley, M Cockbain, M Connors, J Eales (capt), M Foley, O Finegan, D Giffin, R Harry, P Kearns, T Kefu, P Noriega, J Paul, B Robinson, T Strauss, D Wilson, J Williams.

NEW ZEALAND: Backs: P Alatini, T Brown, C Cullen, R Duggan, D Gibson, A Ieremia, B Kelleher, J Lomu, J Marshall, A Mehrtens, G Osborne, C Spencer, T Umaga, J Wilson. Forwards: A Blowers, R Brooke, C Dowd, G Feek, M Hammett, C Hoeft, I Jones, J Kronfeld, N Maxwell, K Meeuws, D Mika, A Oliver, T Randell (capt), S Robertson, R Thorne, R Willis.

FRANCE: Backs: J Marlu, E Ntamack, P BernatSalles, X Garbajosa, C Dominici, U Mola, C Lamaison, S Glas, O Sarramea, R Dourthe, C Desbrosse, T Castaignede, P Mignoni. Forwards: F Tournaire, C Califano, P de Villiers, C Soulette, R Ibanez (capt), M Dal Maso, D Auradou, A Benazzi, O Brouzet, F Pelous, A Costes, C Juillet, M Lievremont, T Lievremont, O Magne, L Mallier.

ARGENTINA: Backs: I Corleto, M Contepomi, J Fernandez Miranda, G Camardon, F Contepomi, O Bartolucci, D Albanese, E Simone, J Orengo, L Arbizu, JL Cilley, G Quesada, N Fernandez Miranda, A Pichot. Forwards: R Grau, M Reggiardo, F Diaz Alberdi, M Scelzo, O Hasan, M Ledesma, A Canalda, I Fernandez Lobbe, R Norberto Perez, P Sporleder, A Allub, L Ostiglia, S Phelan, M Ruiz, R Martin, G Longa Elia.