England captaincy gives Corry the 'ultimate honour'

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The Independent Online

Martin Corry knows what it is to recover from a smashed elbow in record time, but his next challenge - piecing together an England team not so much broken as smithereened - is of an entirely different magnitude.

Leicester's ruthless No 8 will lead the red rose army in their Six Nations Championship match with Italy at Twickenham a week tomorrow, having beaten his fellow Welford Roader, the second-row forward Ben Kay, to the punch. If he makes a decent fist of it, the coaches may be in no great rush to relieve him of the responsibility.

No one in the England coaching hierarchy would go public on the issue after last Sunday's painful defeat in Dublin, but Jason Robinson's form - or rather, his lack of it - had become a serious issue. There was no criticism of the former rugby league international's contribution off the field; indeed, the entire squad were as one in acknowledging his success in setting the right tone since accepting the leadership role in the wake of Jonny Wilkinson's withdrawal from Test duty. But Robinson's decision-making on the field had not passed muster, and his ineffective displays at full-back had given the selectors even greater cause for concern.

Now that a thumb injury has removed Robinson from what is left of the Six Nations equation, the management have a ready-made solution to an awkward problem they were extremely reluctant to address. Josh Lewsey of Wasps, far more of a natural full-back than the Sale player, will probably move from his current position on the left wing - Iain Balshaw of Leeds, very much a specialist No 15, is also in the 30-man party for the meeting with the Azzurri - with Ben Cohen of Northampton, an experienced international hand, filling the gap. The rest of the side is likely to be retained en bloc.

Corry has enjoyed a change of fortune bordering on the blissful. Lumbered with the unenviable task of replacing Lawrence Dallaglio in the middle of the back row, he played a blinder against the Springboks in November before suffering a gruesome dislocation of his right elbow during a floodlit Premiership match at Gloucester. He had never suffered such pain.

"Once I reached the dressing room I was like a big girl, and I certainly wasn't a martyr on the painkiller front," he recalled recently. "I took everything I was offered, in bloody big doses." Yet he was declared fit after a treatment programme lasting a mere six weeks and was immediately picked for the Six Nations match with France.

"This is huge, the ultimate honour," he said yesterday, after receiving due reward for his magnificent display against the Irish at Lansdowne Road. "There again, it's something that has come in unfortunate circumstances, and I hate to benefit from someone's misfortune. It's tough to describe. I often say that I'll never say never, and that nothing will ever surprise me, but this has surprised me. From where I was six months ago, it's phenomenal."

The appointment was welcomed by another Leicester captain of repute - a certain Martin Osborne Johnson, who finished his final game for England with two great hairy paws wrapped around the World Cup.

"Martin is a top man, just the sort you need in a tight situation," Johnson said of his club-mate. "When he runs out against Italy, he'll take a moment to enjoy it and then press on, work out what needs to be done to win the game and handle it."

Corry's response to this glowing endorsement was suitably modest. "It's an honour to follow in Johnno's footsteps," he acknowledged, "but don't compare me to him."

With the thirtysomething Henry Paul and the teenager Mathew Tait on the World Cup Sevens beat, England have recalled two versatile outside backs to the squad: Leon Lloyd of Leicester and James Simpson-Daniel of Gloucester. Lloyd is widely regarded as the most accomplished defensive centre in the country, while Simpson-Daniel remains one of the few midfielders of his generation blessed with a genuinely imaginative streak. Unfortunately for the latter, injuries have been the rule rather than exception. He must hope and pray that he survives his club's Powergen Cup semi-final with Bath at Kingsholm this weekend.

One player who did not survive the Ireland-England match - at least, not in the optimum condition - was Brian O'Driscoll, who has pulled out of tomorrow's fund-raising match at Twickenham for the victims of the tsunami disaster. O'Driscoll, who had been scheduled to lead the Northern Hemisphere XV against their opponents from south of the equator, picked up an elbow injury at Lansdowne Road and will not be risked ahead of his country's fixture with France in eight days' time.



Training squad (v Italy, Twickenham, 12 March): Backs: I Balshaw (Leeds), M Cueto (Sale), J Lewsey (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), B Cohen (Northampton), J Noon (Newcastle), O Smith, L Lloyd (both Leicester), O Barkley (Bath), C Hodgson (Sale), A Goode, H Ellis (both Leicester), M Dawson (Wasps), A Gomarsall (Gloucester). Forwards: G Rowntree (Leicester), M Stevens, D Bell (both Bath), A Sheridan (Sale), S Thompson (Northampton), A Titterrell (Sale), G Chuter (Leicester), D Grewcock (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), S Borthwick (Bath), S Shaw (Wasps), C Jones (Sale), J Worsley (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), A Hazell (Gloucester), M Corry (Leicester, capt).


Training squad (v France, Lansdowne Road, 12 March): Backs: T Bowe, K Campbell (both Ulster), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Duffy (Harlequins), A Horgan, S Payne (both Munster), G Murphy (Leicester), G Dempsey, B O'Driscoll (capt), D Hickie (all Leinster), R O'Gara, P Stringer (both Munster), G Easterby (Leinster), D Humphreys, K Maggs (both Ulster). Forwards: S Best (Ulster), B Jackman (Connacht), A Quinlan, D Leamy, D Wallace (all Munster), M McCullough (Ulster), A Foley (Munster), J O'Connor (Wasps), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), P O'Connell (Munster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), J Hayes (Munster), S Byrne, R Corrigan (both Leinster), F Sheahan, M Horan, D O'Callaghan (all Munster), E Miller (Leinster).