Debut for Deacon as England shuffle the pack

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The Independent Online

England are not quite the All Blacks, despite there being precious little between the sides at Twickenham last Saturday, so there was never much likelihood of Andy Robinson doing a Graham Henry and resting his entire side between Test matches. Instead, the red rose coach changed a third of his starting line-up for this weekend's awkward little set-to with Samoa, awarding a first cap to the Leicester lock Louis Deacon - the new Martin Johnson, no less - and fast-tracking another impressive young Welford Roader, the super-quick wing Tom Varndell, on to the bench.

By spreading his tinkerings far and wide, rather than concentrating them in one particular area, Robinson has retained the core of his team. Josh Lewsey and Mark Cueto are still in the back three, while Mike Tindall and Charlie Hodgson remain manacled together in midfield. Three of the tight five - Andy Sheridan, Steve Thompson and the increasingly influential Steve Borthwick - will take the field together for the third consecutive match, with the back row surviving en bloc. There is so much method in the coach's madness, he is in danger of being diagnosed as completely sane.

As expected, James Simpson-Daniel of Gloucester has been introduced at outside-centre - a clear attempt to add a little slap and tickle to a back division in danger of becoming fossilised in its own conservatism. Tom Voyce, the free-scoring Wasps wing, has been promoted for similar reasons. If Jamie Noon and Ben Cohen, who played against New Zealand five days ago, run straight and hard, Simpson-Daniel and Voyce are ready and willing to go around the houses.

Harry Ellis, the Leicester scrum-half, gets a run ahead of Matt Dawson, but the latter is very definitely Robinson's preferred operator. "I think Matt had two huge games against the Wallabies and the All Blacks," the coach said yesterday after naming Dawson among the replacements. "When I spoke to him at the start of the season, he made it clear to me that he wanted to get England back on track. I think he's done that. He's been terrific for us."

The alterations at the sharp end see Deacon in Danny Grewcock's "mad, bad and dangerous to know" role - it will be fascinating to discover if the man who replaced the revered Johnson in the boilerhouse of the Leicester scrum can master the dark arts at this level - and Matt Stevens at tight-head prop instead of Phil Vickery, who must be feeling every one of his 29 years after enduring 80 minutes of front-row purgatory last weekend.

This game represents a major opportunity for Stevens, for there is no guarantee that Vickery will make the 2007 World Cup in France, or that England's other Lions tight-head specialist, Julian White, will regain his place in the coach's affections.

Robinson accepted that a number of players - notably Mark van Gisbergen and Chris Jones - would be bitterly disappointed at missing out, having spent virtually the whole of the last fortnight in substitute mode. But he made no apology for summoning the likes of Voyce and Varndell.

"If anyone has made huge strides since the summer tour of New Zealand and Australia in 2004, it's Voyce," the coach said. "As for Varndell, he has something unique about him. We've been keeping tabs on him this season and I feel this is the right time to give him a taste of life with England."

That trip to the Antipodes 18 months ago was not exactly a high point for the world champions, accelerating as it did the departures of the coach, Sir Clive Woodward, and the captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, from high office. Simpson-Daniel, travelling as a wing, was more exposed than anyone in the first of the three Tests, against New Zealand in Dunedin, but Robinson was in no mood to discuss the inventive 23-year-old's recall to arms in the context of so traumatic an experience.

"Dunedin was a difficult evening for everyone involved, not just one or two," he said. "If you'd judged people on that performance, you wouldn't have picked any of the players ever again. Or the coaches, come to that. This is a different time for the England team, very much the start of something as we build towards the next World Cup.

"The priority this autumn was to find ourselves a core, and that is beginning to come together. For this game, we're keeping that core in place while seeing whether others can make the step up."

Samoa, touring with a bare 30-man squad, were scheduled to confirm their line-up today after checking on the injury fall-out from last night's match with the National League One leaders Harlequins at the Stoop Memorial Ground.

Test teams

ENGLAND (v Samoa, Twickenham, Saturday, 2.30pm)

15 J Lewsey (Wasps)

14 M Cueto (Sale)

13 J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucs)

12 M Tindall (Gloucester)

11 T Voyce (Wasps)

10 C Hodgson (Sale)

9 H Ellis (Leicester)

1 A Sheridan (Sale)

2 S Thompson (Northampton)

3 M Stevens (Bath)

4 S Borthwick (Bath)

5 L Deacon (Leicester)

6 P Sanderson (Worcester)

7 L Moody (Leicester)

8 M Corry (Leicester, capt)

Replacements: L Mears (Bath) P Freshwater (Perpignan) S Shaw (Wasps) J Forrester (Gloucester) M Dawson (Wasps) O Barkley (Bath) T Varndell (Leicester)

SCOTLAND (v New Zealand, Murrayfield, Saturday, 2.30pm)

15 H Southwell (Edinburgh)

14 C Paterson (Edinburgh)

13 M Di Rollo (Edinburgh)

12 A Henderson (Glasgow)

11 S Lamont (Northampton)

10 D Parks (Glasgow)

9 C Cusiter (Borders)

1 G Kerr (Leeds)

2 S Lawson (Glasgow)

3 B Douglas (Borders)

4 C Hamilton (Glasgow)

5 S Murray (Edinburgh)

6 J White (Sale, capt)

7 S Taylor (Edinburgh)

8 A Hogg (Edinburgh)

Replacements: D Hall (Edinburgh) C Smith (Edinburgh) A Kellock (Edinburgh) K Brown (Borders) M Blair (Edinburgh) P Godman (Edinburgh) S Webster (Edinburgh)

WALES (v Australia, Millennium Stadium, Saturday, 5pm)

15 G Thomas (Toulouse, capt)

14 D James (Llanelli Scarlets)

13 M Watkins (Scarlets)

12 S Parker (Ospreys)

11 S Williams (Ospreys)

10 S Jones (Clermont Auv)

9 G Cooper (N-G Dragons)

1 D Jones (Ospreys)

2 R Thomas (Cardiff Blues)

3 C Horsman (Worcester)

4 I Gough (N-G Dragons)

5 R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues)

6 C Charvis (Newcastle)

7 M Williams (Cardiff Blues)

8 M Owen (N-G Dragons)

Replacements: M Davies (Gloucester) A Jones (Ospreys) I Evans (Ospreys) J Thomas (Ospreys) M Phillips (Cardiff Blues) C Sweeney (N-G Dragons) L Byrne (Llanelli Scarlets)

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