Mathew Tait, the 18-year-old Newcastle centre who does not know what it is to train for an England international match, let alone play in one, has been included in a 42-man squad from which Andy Robinson, the red rose coach, will select his side for the opening Six Nations Championship match with Wales in Cardiff on 5 February.
Mathew Tait, the 18-year-old Newcastle centre who does not know what it is to train for an England international match, let alone play in one, has been included in a 42-man squad from which Andy Robinson, the red rose coach, will select his side for the opening Six Nations Championship match with Wales in Cardiff on 5 February. Matthew Dawson, the World Cup-winning scrum-half who knows what it is to skip training in favour of a session in front of the television cameras, is also in the party. Of the two, Dawson is the more fortunate.
His displays for Wasps, whom he joined from Northampton last summer, have been increasingly authoritative, and there is a growing school of thought that he should make a third tour with the British and Irish Lions when Sir Clive Woodward's squad square up to the All Blacks in New Zealand this summer. But form is not the issue here. Dawson's decision to fulfil filming commitments with the BBC rather than attend the first of England's élite get-togethers in September said everything about his priorities. Unsurprisingly, Robinson was apoplectic.
Had Andy Gomarsall, of Gloucester, erased all doubts as to his ability to organise a game at the highest level with some convincing performances in the autumn international series, or had Harry Ellis, of Leicester, taken up residence in the Test side as to the manner born, the coach might not have felt compelled to recall Dawson. As it was, neither the inconsistent Gomarsall nor the hot-tempered Ellis were entirely persuasive, although Ellis hinted at riches buried just below the surface. Under the circumstances, Robinson feels he has no option but to bite the bullet.
"I always said I would consider bringing Matt back if I felt he was playing well for his club," the coach explained yesterday, seemingly through gritted teeth. "He has demonstrated this in Wasps' recent matches and merits his return." With Clive Stuart-Smith of Worcester failing to flourish - he has lost his place in Brian Ashton's national academy - Dawson and his two direct rivals are the only scrum-halves in the 56-strong élite player squad.
Tait, probably the most accomplished teenage back to emerge in English rugby since a certain colleague by the name of Wilkinson materialised in the Newcastle midfield in the late 1990s, simply demanded to be included among the grown-ups. Just lately, his performances have oozed confidence and maturity, as well as unadulterated class. Given England's injury problems at centre - Will Greenwood out of circulation after surgery, Mike Tindall limping around in an orthopaedic boot - it would be no great surprise if he was capped by the end of next month.
Robinson announced two squads yesterday - the so-called EPS, made up of seniors and academy members along with five seven-a-side specialists, and a slightly smaller party on which he plans to draw during the Six Nations. These players, chosen from nine Premiership clubs, will attend a three-day training session in Leeds next week - a gathering that represents the coach's first significant attempt to break the Woodward mould and establish a modus operandi of his own. The squad will work alongside Leeds Rhinos, the rugby league champions.
"It is uncharted territory for all of us," said Robinson, who will join the Rhinos coach, Tony Smith, in overseeing the ground-breaking activities at Headingley. "We can all learn something from each other. Anything that gives you an edge is always worth doing." As the Rhinos are contemplating the small matter of a match with Canterbury Bulldogs, holders of the Australian title, in the coming weeks, they may take as much from the venture as England hope to do.
Among the principal casualties in this latest selectorial extravaganza are two members of the World Cup-winning squad: the wing Dan Luger and the prop Trevor Woodman. Luger, currently playing for the powerful French side Perpignan, is out of sight and out of mind; Woodman, who moved from Gloucester to Sale last summer, has serious problems with his back and shows no sign of lacing up a pair of boots in anger. Two other long-term casualties, Alex Sanderson and Dan Scarbrough of Saracens, are also ditched.
As for the promotions, the Bath flanker Andy Beattie and two hookers, George Chuter of Leicester and Phil Greening of Wasps, are among the most striking. Greening has been around international rugby for years - he played in the 1999 World Cup and was selected for the Lions tour of Australia in 2001 - but he fell foul of both Woodward and the sporting gods. Initially, dropped for his frequent disappearances into the red mist, he then suffered a soul-destroying run of injury problems. He is a rare talent, however, and it is good to see him back.
ROBINSON'S CHOICE THREE OUTSIDE BETS FOR A SIX NATIONS DEBUTANDY BEATTIE
Bath flanker, 26
As Beattie has been the most consistent English blind-side specialist in the Premiership for the best part of two seasons now, his promotion is overdue. A useful line-out operator as well as a major-league performer in the tackling and ball-carrying departments, his energetic and aggressive style has helped the Bath pack establish themselves as the most potent unit in the top echelon.GEORGE CHUTER
Leicester hooker, 28
Proof positive that everything comes to he who waits, the Greenwich-born former Saracen can now consider himself more than a journeyman front-rower. Chuter surfaced at Leicester after putting his Premiership career on the back-burner and going to Australia. Welford Road has been good to him, giving him the opportunity to play with a high-quality pack. In return, he has worked his socks off.MATHEW TAIT
Newcastle centre, 18
If there is a more exciting back-line talent in English rugby, he has yet to show his face in public. Tait is a prodigy, possibly of Jeremy Guscott proportions. He may even be as good as Tim Horan, the great Wallaby centre, who also had the coaching community eating out of his hand before he left his teens. Quicker and stronger than he looks, and every bit as gifted as his supporters claim. A natural.Reuse content