And then there were seven, magnificent to a man a year ago but now feeling just a little exposed by the extent of the fall-out from the team that seized the Webb Ellis Trophy on that famous night in Sydney. Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Ben Cohen, Mike Tindall, Will Greenwood, Steve Thompson and Ben Kay - these are the only surviving members of the World Cup final starting line-up as Andy Robinson, the new national coach, prepares for next Saturday's Test with Canada at Twickenham. In many areas, England are barely recognisable.
Trevor Woodman and Phil Vickery, scrummagers supreme against the Wallabies last November, are the latest players to fade from view, albeit temporarily. Woodman has been struggling for fitness all season and will miss tonight's Premiership match between Sale and Newcastle at Edgeley Park. Vickery, meanwhile, has been much in evidence at Gloucester after a lengthy recuperation from surgery on his back, but he does not consider himself quite fit enough for international rugby. The two props were among 10 players dropped from Robinson's 40-man squad yesterday.
Of the others, two more Gloucester players - the lock Alex Brown and the eternally unfortunate wing James Simpson-Daniel - are injured, as are the Leicester second-rower Louis Deacon and some bloke by the name of Wilkinson. Robinson has also omitted the Wasps wing Tom Voyce; Dan Luger, who disappeared to France after a traumatic World Cup and has only just got his head back together; James Forrester, the adventurous No 8 from Gloucester; and, rather surprisingly, Olly Barkley, of Bath, who has looked the part on more than one occasion this season. He loses out to the Wasps outside-half Alex King.
All this means that Robinson must marginalise a further eight players when he reveals his hand on Monday. He must also pick a leader to call the shots while the aforementioned Mr Wilkinson recovers. Tindall, the Bath centre named by the coach as one of two vice-captains a month ago, is attracting a good deal of popular support and will feature strongly in Robinson's thinking.
Henry Paul, the former rugby league international whose midfield displays for Gloucester reveal an ever-increasing level of maturity, now appears to have every chance of making the match-day squad; indeed, he may even beat Greenwood to the inside centre position. Graham Rowntree, the Leicester loose-head prop, is favourite to secure a front-row berth ahead of the uncapped Andrew Sheridan, while Mark Cueto's chances of making his debut on the wing have been strengthened by yesterday's cull. By common consent, the Sale man is the sharpest finisher in the country just now.
Meanwhile, the Scotland coach Matt Williams named a makeshift side containing two new caps from Borders, the lock Scott MacLeod and the loose forward Scott Gray, for tomorrow's difficult match with the Wallabies at Murrayfield. In so doing, he fairly ripped into the English Premiership clubs for withholding their front-line Scots on the grounds that the fixture falls outside the agreed international "window" and was therefore not subject to International Board regulations on player release.
Williams has been forced to pick a team of home-based players - no Tom Smith or Craig Hamilton, no Stuart Grimes or Jason White - and is none too happy about it. "I think it is a very dangerous precedent that the English clubs can be setting the agenda for an international game," he complained. "I am very disappointed. It would have been a great yardstick against the Wallabiesand for Smith and Grimes there may not be another chance to play them in Edinburgh. You wonder why an English club competition should take precedence. This just shows that we have to bring our best players back to Scotland. We shouldn't lose our crown jewels, but that is what is currently happening." Happy days.
(v Canada, Twickenham, 13 November)
Backs: J Robinson (Sale), J Lewsey (Wasps), I Balshaw (Leeds), M Cueto (Sale), B Cohen (Northampton), M Tindall (Bath), W Greenwood (Harlequins), J Noon (Newcastle), H Paul (Gloucester), C Hodgson (Sale), A King (Wasps), A Gomarsall (Gloucester), H Ellis (Leicester), H Charlton (Newcastle).
Forwards: G Rowntree (Leicester), M Stevens (Bath), A Sheridan (Sale), J White (Leicester), S Thompson (Northampton), M Regan (Leeds), A Titterrell (Sale), D Grewcock (Bath), S Borthwick (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), H Vyvyan (Saracens), C Jones (Sale), J Worsley (Wasps), L Moody (Leicester), A Hazell (Gloucester), M Corry (Leicester).
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