Chance for Shaw to stake claim for England

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The Independent Online

England's last trip south of the equator was undertaken by a bunch of commoners fiercely united by a common goal, capturing the World Cup. Mission accomplished, though a little tarnished by a mixed Six Nations Championship in the meantime, the bearers of the red rose set off today to navigate their way back to the Antipodes laden with MBEs, a couple of OBEs and, of course, a knight at the helm.

England's last trip south of the equator was undertaken by a bunch of commoners fiercely united by a common goal, capturing the World Cup. Mission accomplished, though a little tarnished by a mixed Six Nations Championship in the meantime, the bearers of the red rose set off today to navigate their way back to the Antipodes laden with MBEs, a couple of OBEs and, of course, a knight at the helm.

The titles have changed, so too some of the names, but the game is the same. "Our job is to win Test matches," said Sir Clive Woodward. "I'm confident we can go down there and win."

A simple but starkly challenging itinerary could be the making of any number of a 31-man squad inwardly ready for a spell on the beach, but whose competitive juices cannot fail to get racing at the prospect of two Tests against New Zealand and one in Australia. Thirty-one was sufficient to see England through a World Cup of seven matches, so it should do over the next four weeks.

This weekend will be spent shaking off the effects of jetlag; training begins in earnest on Monday in preparation for the All Black encounters in Dunedin and Auckland, followed by the Wallabies in Brisbane.

The latter will undoubtedly be billed as a rerun of the World Cup final, although with the Cook Cup not the Webb Ellis trophy at stake, and no extra time to fret about, there are certain obvious differences.

"It's the complete opposite," said Woodward. "The great thing about the World Cup is that winning the final is the only time you can call yourself the best team in the world. We arrived at that final with no injuries. This is a different event."

Woodward inferred, a couple of times over, that Jason Robinson, the twinkle-toed Lion from Sale, was the only player being rested who was in the form to play had he been required to. Two more World Cup winners, Will Greenwood and Ben Kay, are clearly not so well regarded. Add to those two a bulging debit column of injuries and retirements, and there remain 17 survivors of last autumn's glorious raid down under.

Though not a natural conservative, Woodward may adopt the safety manual from today's flight to Auckland as his ideal tour reading, and pitch up at Dunedin's "House of Pain" with a relatively long-in-the-tooth XV. The portholes of opportunity look likely to be restricted to nearly men of the recent past, such as Wasps' ball-playing lock, Simon Shaw, and the Sale fly-half, Charlie Hodgson.

"This tour is Shaw's big chance to step in and make the position his own," said Woodward. "These will be the biggest games Hodgson has ever played in."

Last June, England won in New Zealand and Australia as the ideal springboard to the World Cup. Lawrence Dallaglio may need to inspire heroics from his pack, or at least the measure of the famous six-man scrum in Wellington to post a repeat result.

There are all together eight players each from Wasps and Bath, England's leading clubs this season who contested a fierce Zurich Premiership final at Twickenham last Saturday. Mike Tindall was yesterday declared fit after limping off at HQ, and will be an important figure in an England midfield without Greenwood and Jonny Wilkinson to do the organising.

The loose-head prop from Bath, David Flatman, is not so chipper. Nursing an Achilles tendon injury, Flatman is not expected to be fit until at least the second Test, so Wasps' Tim Payne goes as cover.

The All Blacks' coaches, Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, could not be more familiar with England after their stints in the UK. Yesterday in a final trial they reassimilated another old hand, Andrew Mehrtens, as a replacement fly-half in a 29-27 win for the Probables over the Possibles.

Woodward will travel with his customary cast of thousands - well 18 - in the support staff including for the first time Joe Lydon as backs' coach. With the defensive strategist, Phil Larder, admitting that things within his sphere of influence had gone awry during the Six Nations, not least in the 10-12 channel once patrolled by Wilkinson, Lydon will want to assist in both creating and preventing tries.

The 40-year-old's cross-code career path from league to union with England's under-19, Sevens and A team could be about to encounter its severest test yet.

England squad and tour itinerary

Backs: S Abbott (Wasps), O Barkley, M Catt (both Bath), P Christophers (Leeds), B Cohen, M Dawson (both Northampton), H Ellis (Leicester), A Gomarsall (Gloucester), C Hodgson (Sale), J Lewsey (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tindall (Bath), T Voyce, F Waters (both Wasps).

Forwards: S Borthwick (Bath), M Corry (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt), D Flatman, D Grewcock (both Bath), R Hill (Saracens), C Jones (Sale), M Lipman (Bath), T Payne (Wasps), M Regan (Leeds), S Shaw (Wasps), M Stevens (Bath), S Thompson (Northampton), A Titterrell (Sale), J White (Leicester), T Woodman (Gloucester), J Worsley (Wasps).

Schedule

Saturday 12 June: First Test v New Zealand, (Carisbrook, Dunedin, 7.35 BST).

Saturday 19 June: Second Test v New Zealand (Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35).

Saturday 26 June: v Australia (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 10.0, tbc).

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