After the pulsating summer tour to New Zealand and Australia and secondary trips to Japan and the Churchill Cup in Canada, the England head coach Clive Woodward has begun his own countdown to the World Cup.
Yesterday he named a 43-man squad which will be whittled down, first to 36 by 21 July, then to 30 by the World Cup deadline of 8 September. There were no major surprises in the names who will take on Wales and France in warm-up matches starting next month, but there was the odd sense of relief - Iain Balshaw is back for one - and for a couple of players their omission will have been a major disappointment.
Not least Gloucester's rugby league convert Henry Paul, who, according to reports, distinguished himself with England A during the Churchill Cup campaign. Paul does not even make it on to the supplementary list of seven - Woodward has covered all options by submitting a total of 50 names for accreditation with the World Cup organisers.
The long-term injured were also only given a chink of light. Woodward said: "There are still a couple of players who have an outside chance of making the squad on 8 September and I will be monitoring them through their clubs. This however will be subject to me seeing them play or being happy with their medical reports prior to that date."
That does not auger well for Bath's Mike Catt, who has been plagued with a hamstring injury. Sale's Charlie Hodgson is the other major absentee and there is apparently little hope of him recovering in time.
The inclusion of Dan Scarbrough will perhaps have lifted the odd eyebrow, since it means he has overtaken Leicester's Tim Stimpson in the reckoning, but jaws will only drop if the Leeds full-back makes it to the final 30.
Up front, Sale's hooker Andy Titterrell and Wasps prop Will Green have shot into contention, while Robbie Morris, who started two Six Nations matches back in February and March, is out.
ENGLAND TRAINING SQUAD (for friendlies v France and Wales): Backs: Abbott (Wasps), Balshaw (Bath), Bracken (Saracens), Cohen (Northampton), Dawson (Northampton), Greenwood (Harlequins), King (Wasps), Gomarsall (Gloucester), Grayson (Northampton), Healey (Leicester), Lewsey (Wasps), Luger (Perpignan), Noon (Newcastle), Robinson (Sale), Scarbrough (Leeds), Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), Smith (Leicester), Tindall (Bath), Walder (Newcastle), Wilkinson (Newcastle). Forwards: Back (Leicester), Borthwick (Bath), Corry (Leicester), Dallaglio (Wasps), Green (Wasps), Grewcock (Bath), Hazell (Gloucester), Hill (Saracens), Johnson (Leicester), Kay (Leicester), Leonard (Harlequins), Moody (Leicester), Regan (Leeds), Rowntree (Leicester), Sanderson (Sale), Shaw (Wasps), Titterell (Sale), Thompson (Northampton), Vickery (Gloucester), West (Leicester), White (Leicester), Woodman (Gloucester), Worsley (Wasps).
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