Dallaglio returns as older and wiser England captain

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The Independent Online

Three years older and £25,000 lighter in the wallet than when he last captained his country, Lawrence Dallaglio has finally been reappointed to the position in which he once looked unchallengeable.

The so-called Italian Stallion from west London will lead England – or an England of sorts, shorn of seven Six Nations regulars and a fistful of other leading contenders – against the Barbarians at Twickenham on 26 May, thereby wiping clean a slate dirtied by his unfortunate entanglement with the tabloid press.

With Martin Johnson and Neil Back, the last two England captains, heading for a summer's rest and recuperation, Dallaglio will also captain the side in Argentina in June.

A strong performance in Puma territory at the head of what is certain to be an inexperienced side might tempt Clive Woodward, the national manager, to leave well alone in the run-up to the 2003 World Cup – a decision that would delight the 29-year-old Wasps supporters, given that he would have led the red rose army into the last tournament in 1999 but for a puerile sex-and-drugs sting conducted by the News of the World.

"I am delighted to see Lawrence back as captain," said Woodward, who was among Dallaglio's staunchest allies throughout the Rugby Football Union's investigation into the affair and its subsequent decision to fine him £15,000, with £10,000 costs, for bringing the game into disrepute. "The Barbarians will have an exceptional team as always, and we will need all his experience for this game and the forthcoming tour."

Some 50,000 tickets have already been sold for the Baa-Baas fixture, even though it has been scheduled for the weekend of the Heineken Cup and Parker Pen Shield finals and will therefore go ahead without any personnel from Leicester or Sale. The absence of Johnson, Back, Lewis Moody, Jason Robinson and a number of injured players opens the door for some of the brightest newcomers to Premiership rugby, not to mention a deserving journeyman or two.

In the first category, the brilliant open-side prodigies Declan Danaher and James Forrester are chasing a starting spot, as is the out-sized Bristol lock Andy Sheridan, who has not featured in Woodward's thinking since the tour of South Africa in 2000. In the latter category, Gloucester's second row Mark Cornwell and flanker Paul Gustard, who moved from Leicester to London Irish midway through the season, will be hoping for a moment in the sun.

Charlie Hodgson's Shield commitments with Sale mean that Jonny Wilkinson, in dire need of a break, will be called to arms once again, although Phil Jones of Orrell, a rugby league convert who won England A caps during the winter, can expect a run.

The board of England Rugby Ltd ducked the Rotherham promotion issue for a second time yesterday when it failed to decide if the National League One champions had met criteria governing entry to the Premiership. Can it really be this difficult, or are we all being taken for mugs?

Those cynics who predicted that Rotherham's bid would be rejected, but only after the remaining relegation scraps had generated big business at the turnstiles, are beginning to smell vindication in the air.

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