England turn to Varndell and Simpson-Daniel

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The Independent Online

James Simpson-Daniel is probably the most imaginative outside back in English rugby, while Tom Varndell is running in Premiership tries at the rate of one a game. In light of the Red Rose Army's obvious problems in creating and scoring the kind of five-pointers that separate teams like New Zealand and France from the common mass of rugby humanity, there could be little argument with Andy Robinson yesterday when he included the two players in a revised 30-man squad for this weekend's intriguing Test with Samoa at Twickenham.

The national coach has been a firm supporter of Simpson-Daniel for some years now. Varndell, on the other hand, has only recently registered a presence on the Robinson radar. They have this much in common, though: both are squarely in the frame for a place in England's squad for the 2007 World Cup, assuming the former does not slip back into the morass of injury and illness in which he all but disappeared a year or so ago and the latter does not fall victim to so-called "second season syndrome".

Robinson sees Simpson-Daniel as an outside centre rather than a wing, and has kept his side of the bargain by picking him there after persuading Gloucester to conduct the necessary jiggery-pokery in selection. "I've said all along that the role suits him and he's been looking good since he started playing in the No 13 position," the coach said yesterday. And Varndell? "He's had some rave reviews," Robinson continued. "We're very interested in him."

This is Varndell's first full season as a senior Leicester player, having joined them from Colston's School in Bristol, by some distance the most nakedly ambitious rugby nursery in the country and probably the most successful. Blessed with the pace of a sprinter - "It is extremely difficult to find answers to the sort of speed he possesses," said defence specialist Phil Larder - and equipped with the predatory instinct of a natural finisher, the 20-year-old left wing has considerable momentum behind him.

It may not be sufficient to propel him into the match-day squad for this Saturday's contest - Simpson-Daniel will have greater expectations when Robinson reveals his hand this evening - but yesterday's developments underlined the coach's determination to address difficult issues as and when they arise, rather than let them fester and poison his planning for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. As a result of the two promotions, a couple of Varndell's club mates, the centre Ollie Smith and the outside-half Andy Goode, were omitted.

Given the extraordinary intensity of last weekend's meeting with the All Blacks, it is remarkable that the coaching panel have a full hand of players from which to choose a side with enough authority and technique to subdue notoriously difficult opponents. "There are plenty of cuts and bruises from the New Zealand match, but the whole 30 are available for selection," Robinson reported. "It was a great game last weekend - the kind of game that reminded you why you were attracted to rugby in the first place - and while we're disappointed we didn't convert pressure and possession into points, we feel we've moved forward over the last couple of weeks."

Apparently, the supporters feel the same way. Samoa attracted only 14,000 spectators to Murrayfield for the fixture with Scotland last Sunday - a game the islanders might easily have won had the gods been with them - but Twickenham say more than 60,000 of the 62,000 available tickets have been sold.

England Test squad and weekend teams

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday (2.30):

Backs: O Barkley (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton), M Cueto (Sale Sharks), M Dawson (Wasps), H Ellis (Leicester), J Lewsey (Wasps), C Hodgson (Sale), J Noon (Newcastle), P Richards, J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall (all Gloucester), M van Gisbergen (Wasps), T Varndell (Leicester), T Voyce (Wasps). Forwards: S Borthwick (Bath), M Corry (Leicester, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), P Freshwater (Perpignan), J Forrester (Gloucester), D Grewcock (Bath), A Hazell (Gloucester), C Jones (Sale), L Mears (Bath), L Moody (Leicester), P Sanderson (Worcester), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sheridan (Sale), M Stevens (Bath), S Thompson (Northampton), P Vickery (Gloucester).

IRELAND (v Romania at Lansdowne Road on Saturday (12.30)

15 G Murphy (Leicester)

14 S Horgan (Leinster)

13 A Trimble (Ulster)

12 G D'Arcy (Leinster)

11 T Bowe (Ulster)

10 D Humphreys (Ulster)

9 K Campbell (Ulster)

1 M Horan (Munster)

2 S Byrne (Saracens)

3 S Best (Ulster)

4 D O'Callaghan (Munster)

5 L Cullen (Leicester)

6 N Best (Ulster)

7 J O'Connor (Wasps)

8 D Leamy (Munster).

Replacements:

J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), S Easterby (Llanelli Scarlets), P Stringer (Munster), R O'Gara (Munster), G Dempsey (Leinster).

NEW ZEALAND (v Scotland in Saturday's Grand Slam decider at Murrayfield (2.30)

15 I Toeava (Auckland)

14 R Gear (Nelson Bays)

13 C Smith (Wellington)

12 T Umaga (Wellington, capt)

11 J Rokocoko (Auckland)

10 N Evans (Otago)

9 P Weepu (Wellington)

1 S Taumoepeau (Auckland)

2 A Oliver (Otago)

3 J Afoa (Auckland)

4 C Jack (Canterbury)

5 J Ryan (Otago)

6 A MacDonald (Auckland)

7 R McCaw (Canterbury)

8 S Lauaki (Waikato)

Replacements:

A Hore (Taranaki), N Tialata (Wellington), J Eaton (Taranaki), M Tuiali'i (Canterbury), J Cowan (Southland), L MacDonald (Canterbury), M Nonu (Wellington).

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