Guscott dropped as Woodward rings changes

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SO MANY celebrated rugby heads were sent rolling down Twickenham High Street early yesterday evening that the good folk of south-west London were in serious danger of being knocked off their feet like human skittles. Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Leonard, Richard Cockerill, Tim Rodber and, most pointedly of all, Jeremy Guscott were given the World Cup heave-ho by Clive Woodward as the England coach set about re-energizing the red rose campaign in the aftermath of last weekend's morale-sapping defeat by the All Blacks.

SO MANY celebrated rugby heads were sent rolling down Twickenham High Street early yesterday evening that the good folk of south-west London were in serious danger of being knocked off their feet like human skittles. Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Leonard, Richard Cockerill, Tim Rodber and, most pointedly of all, Jeremy Guscott were given the World Cup heave-ho by Clive Woodward as the England coach set about re-energizing the red rose campaign in the aftermath of last weekend's morale-sapping defeat by the All Blacks.

Woodward made six changes, plus one positional switch, in a radically revamped side for this Friday's do-or-die Pool B match with Tonga. Only Neil Back, who ended the torrid forward battle with New Zealand with a cut head, and Danny Grewcock, who took one knock too many and bowed out after an hour, were not considered for a starting role against the islanders. The other personnel decisions were, according to the head honcho, made purely on form.

Guscott, a triple Lion and a 24-carat English legend, is out of the picture altogether, as is Rodber; neither has made the bench, let alone the team. "They're not picked, and that's that," said Woodward abruptly. The other demoted players are included among the replacements, along with Back and Grewcock. "I can't afford to mess about," explained the coach. "I was disappointed to lose to the New Zealanders in the way we did, and I'm even more disappointed having watched the video. This is basically a first-choice side, full of people who are desperate to get out there and play. Apart from Neil and Danny, I'm not holding anyone back. There's no point thinking about next week when we could be out of the tournament on Friday afternoon."

Rodber, the Lions No 8 turned England lock, played the last quarter of the New Zealand match, but failed to distinguish himself. But it is Guscott, so often the high achiever, who will spend the next few days in high dudgeon. He is carrying the can for two very public missed tackles, the first on Christian Cullen and the second on Jonah Lomu, that resulted directly in All Black tries. "I'm not one for singling people out," Woodward insisted, but his body language spoke volumes. If Will Greenwood, back in midfield after minor hamstring trouble, clicks with the in-form Phil de Glanville, the most gifted English back of the post-war era will find it difficult to force his way back into contention.

Paul Grayson's elevation over Wilkinson is directly attributable to Woodward's frustration at some of decision-making at the weekend. "If you get three pieces of possession in the opening 90 seconds and hoof the ball in the air each time, it's not very clever," said the coach. "If we'd gone out of the tournament playing like that, there are people I'd probably never have spoken to again. Fortunately, we have another crack at it. But we're in a corner and I have to be pragmatic. I feel for the guys who are not involved, but I'm not in the happy position of being able to have a romp with my second team."

Joe Worsley, the 22-year-old Wasps flanker, will make his debut on the blind side, with Richard Hill shifting to his natural position on the open side. "I'm excited about the potential Joe brings to the team," enthused Woodward. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's up to it physically, and he certainly has the pace. He's been bringing a real buzz to our training sessions and by playing him alongside Lawrence [Dallaglio], his club partner, I'm sure we'll see the best of him."

Woodward described the Tongans, rather euphemistically, as a "highly motivated side," adding: "We're perfectly aware of what's coming to us." By the same yardstick, the islanders know what they are about to dish out. Having rested around half of their first-choice side for last Sunday's game against Italy at Leicester, where victory gave them an outside chance of making the knock-out stages, they will be back at full power on Friday. Their front five and threequarter line have been strengthened significantly, with the former national captain Salesi Finau installed at inside centre following the resolution of a contractual wrangle with his club employers, Llanelli.

ENGLAND: M Perry (Bath); A Healey, W Greenwood (both Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), D Luger (Saracens); P Grayson, M Dawson (both Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), P Greening (Sale), P Vickery (Gloucester), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Bristol), J Worsley (Wasps), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: N Beal (Northampton), M Catt (Bath), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), N Back (Leicester), D Grewcock (Saracens), J Leonard (Harlequins), R Cockerill (Leicester).

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