Barkley wins Woodward vote

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The Independent Online

Olly Barkley, the young Bath outside-half implicated in this week's mini-scandal over black market ticket sales from inside the England camp, will make his first international start against Wales at Twickenham this afternoon. The jokes were circulating within minutes of yesterday's announcement - wisecracks about Barkley producing his best passes from the inside pocket of his overcoat, and how he had recently invented a new back-line move codenamed "two together" - but Clive Woodward, the world champions' head coach, was in no mood for laughter.

Olly Barkley, the young Bath outside-half implicated in this week's mini-scandal over black market ticket sales from inside the England camp, will make his first international start against Wales at Twickenham this afternoon. The jokes were circulating within minutes of yesterday's announcement - wisecracks about Barkley producing his best passes from the inside pocket of his overcoat, and how he had recently invented a new back-line move codenamed "two together" - but Clive Woodward, the world champions' head coach, was in no mood for laughter.

"This is a huge match for us, and it is absolutely critical that we win it," Woodward said after confirming that Paul Grayson, the long-serving Northampton stand-off, had failed to recover from the calf injury he suffered during training on Tuesday. "I don't care how we win, just so long as we do. Olly is our fourth-choice stand-off - we've lost Jonny Wilkinson and Charlie Hodgson as well as Grayson - but he has a good head on his shoulders and can handle the pressure. The chance is there for him to take, and I'm looking forward to seeing him play."

Woodward promoted the 22-year-old Barkley over the head of the vastly more experienced Mike Catt, a significant contributor to last year's World Cup success in Australia, but while he acknowledged that Catt's presence on the bench was reassuring, he insisted he had made the optimum choice. "It took me about three seconds to decide," the coach said. "Olly is a front-line goal-kicker who is right up there in terms of his hit-rate; Mike doesn't kick goals these days. I simply don't see this as a gamble. It would have been a gamble had I gone into a Six Nations match without a recognised kicker."

Barkley, a multi-talented sportsman who attracted interest from a number of professional football clubs during his teens, has made three appearances for England, all of them off the replacements' bench. The first, against the United States in 2001, came after Woodward had selected him, sight unseen, on the recommendation of his coaching sidekick, Andy Robinson. Barkley's other caps were won in Rome last month, and in the defeat by Ireland at Twickenham a fortnight ago. Catt's return to fitness cost him his place on the bench, but he was recalled to the squad when Grayson broke down.

Only this week, Barkley and two colleagues, Ben Cohen and Matt Stevens, found themselves in bad odour with the England hierarchy after an investigation into how match tickets bearing their names had reached the hands of unlicensed hospitality operators. Woodward damned them publicly for their "errors of judgement" and warned that severe disciplinary action would follow any further breach of conduct. Rugby Football Union officials have asked all three for explanations. As Barkley has yet to respond, he has been granted his usual ticket allocation for today's game.

"It has been a topsy-turvy few days, a week of mixed emotions, but it's finishing on a high," he said. "I commiserate with Paul [Grayson]. When Clive asked me to stay with the squad, I thought it was precautionary. Now, I'm in a situation that happens once in a lifetime."

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