Gregan to ensure England encounter dangerous terrain

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The Independent Online

Now the Wallabies have formally reappointed George Gregan as captain for the southern hemisphere international campaign, the venerable half-back can expect to break Jason Leonard's world record for Test appearances - 119, spread over 13 seasons - a fortnight on Saturday, when Australia take on England for the second time in six days in Melbourne.

Gregan already has 118 caps to his name, significantly more than two-thirds of Andy Robinson's 30-man party can muster between them. For that reason alone, the world champions knew they were flying into dangerous territory when they left Heathrow last night.

Not that Robinson was anything less than bullish as he threw his mind forward to the trip. "As I keep emphasising, we've picked people in form," he said, "and any player getting an opportunity to play in the first Test in Sydney can consider himself in possession of the shirt. From that point, it will be down to the individual concerned to perform sufficiently well to retain possession. An opportunity is as much as a player can ask. After that, it's up to him."

The head coach declared his squad an injury-free zone, which came as something of a relief after a weekend that saw Sale and Leicester engage in a hard-edged Premiership final at Twickenham, 24 hours before an England shadow side took on the Barbarians in the annual end-of-season runaround. "The medical staff are pretty pleased at the way we got through it," he said, confirming that Tom Voyce, the Wasps wing, would travel after recovering from the hamstring problems he suffered at Edgeley Park 16 days ago.

Of course, England are leaving the vast majority of their more experienced hands - the Ben Cohens and Charlie Hodgsons, the Steve Thompsons and Danny Grewcocks - on the beach. Some are injured, others merely knackered and in sore need of a holiday. The Wallabies, on the other hand, have only four players on the casualty list. Two of those, Berrick Barnes and Hugh McMeniman, would struggle to be recognised outside a gathering of kith and kin. The big-name absentees are Matt Giteau, the midfielder, and Bill Young, the prop. Giteau may yet play, having made good progress after knee surgery.

For all that, the new Australian coaching team of John Connolly, Michael Foley and Scott Johnson have left the new England coaching team of Robinson, Brian Ashton, Mike Ford and John Wells with much to ponder. The are nine uncapped players in the 33-man party - Gene Fairbanks, Guy Shepherdson, Sam Norton-Knight, Wycliff Palu, Benn Robinson, Rodney Blake, Josh Valentine, Tai McIsaac and Cameron Shepherd - plus blasts from the past like the scrum-half Sam Cordingley, who last played Test rugby as a 24-year-old. He is now 30.

"What do we know about the Wallabies? We know enough about Foley to expect him to bring together a strong pack of forwards," said Robinson, aware that there is less familiarity about the grunt-and-groan contingent than amongst a back-line selection including Stephen Larkham, Chris Latham, Stirling Mortlock and Clyde Rathbone. "We learned that much on the Lions tour of 2001, when he both coached and led the Wallaby pack after being recalled to the team for the Melbourne Test. They will be very well organised, particularly at the line-out. We'll have to match them there.

"I certainly believe we have the personnel to do well, provided we get our execution right and play with the ambition we're showing on the training field. While this is a major challenge, I don't understand the losing mentality. I've never prepared a team that even contemplates the possibility of defeat."

There has been one change to the England Saxons - a team known simply as England A before sundry Twickenhamites went down with a bad dose of the historical perspectives and embarked on one of their occasional rebranding exercises - ahead of the forthcoming Churchill Cup business in Canada. James Forrester, the Gloucester No 8 who must have felt thoroughly cheesed off at failing to make the cut for the senior trip, is suffering from shoulder problems.Kai Horstmann of Worcester travels in his stead.

Meanwhile, the last of the seven French places in next season's Heineken Cup has gone to Castres, who won at Pau in the final round of championship matches, thereby holding off Clermont Auvergne, who enter the European Challenge Cup. Newport-Gwent Dragons will claim the one remaining Heineken spot if they beat Overmach Parma at Rodney Parade on Friday.

England and Australia squads for the two-Test tour

* ENGLAND

Backs: I Balshaw (Gloucester), M Van Gisbergen (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), T Varndell (Leicester), T Voyce (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), M Tait (Newcastle), S Abbott (Wasps), M Catt (London Irish), O Barkley (Bath), A Goode (Leicester), S Bemand (Leicester), P Richards (Gloucester), N Walshe (Bath).

Forwards: G Chuter (Leicester), L Mears (Bath), A Titterrell (Sale), T Payne (Wasps), G Rowntree (Leicester), D Bell (Bath), J White (Leicester), A Brown (Gloucester), L Deacon (Leicester), C Jones (Sale), B Kay (Leicester), M Lipman (Bath), M Lund (Sale), L Moody (Leicester), P Sanderson (Worcester, capt), J Worsley (Wasps).

* AUSTRALIA

Backs: A Ashley-Cooper (ACT Brumbies), S Cordingley (Queensland Reds), G Fairbanks (Brumbies), Mark Gerrard (Brumbies), G Gregan (Brumbies, capt), S Larkham (Brumbies), C Latham (Queensland Reds), S Mortlock (Brumbies), S Norton-Knight (NSW Waratahs), C Rathbone (Brumbies), M Rogers (Waratahs), C Shepherd (Western Force), S Staniforth (Western Force), L Tuqiri (Waratahs), J Valentine (Queensland Reds).

Forwards: A Baxter (Waratahs), R Blake (Queensland Reds), M Chisholm (Brumbies), R Elsom (Waratahs), S Fava (Western Force), A Freier (Waratahs), D Heenan (Brumbies), G Holmes (Queensland Reds), A Kanaar (Waratahs), T McIsaac (Western Force), W Palu (Waratahs), J Paul (Brumbies), B Robinson (Waratahs), N Sharpe (Western Force), G Shepherdson (Brumbies), G Smith (Brumbies), D Vickerman (Waratahs), P Waugh (Waratahs).

* ITINERARY

Sun 11 June: Australia v England (Telstra Stadium, Sydney, 11am)

Sat 17 June: Australia v England

(Telstra Dome, Melbourne, 11am)

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