Healey must battle for squad place

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The Independent Online

The way the players tell it in public, Clive Woodward's England squad is a social phenomenon bordering on the utopian; like a cross between the Three Musketeers and a Baden-Powell scout troop, it is an "all for one and one for all" affair in which each man offers help and encouragement to everyone else, and stands up for Queen and country. But Austin Healey, for one, would have been less than human had he not cringed at the sight of Andy Gomarsall playing out of his socks against the Welsh in Cardiff last Saturday.

Healey and Gomarsall are, according to the conventional wisdom, chasing the third and final World Cup scrum-half position behind Kyran Bracken and Matthew Dawson, and are therefore engaged in a struggle for supremacy.

Gomarsall took aim with his best shot at the Millennium Stadium and registered a bull's-eye. This weekend in Marseilles, Healey gets his chance against the formidable French. These are tough times for the Leicester Lip, not least because his renowned versatility appears to count for nothing in the Woodward ledger.

Rightly or wrongly, the coach has repeatedly insisted that specialists, and only specialists, will board the plane for Perth in early autumn, so he can hardly pitch up at the squad announcement on Monday week and say: "I'm taking Austin because he can play a dozen positions and makes us all laugh."

If Healey is to make the cut, it will be through his scrum-half performance against Les Bleus at Stade Vélodrome. He has not played an international match in that position since the less than demanding 134-0 victory over Romania in November 2001.

Dorian West, one of those long-suffering Leicester men forced to listen to Healey's endless quips on a daily basis, will captain this experimental side from hooker, thereby following Johnson, Dallaglio, Dawson, Bracken, Back, Vickery, Wilkinson, Leonard and Diprose as a Woodward-appointed leader of men. West will be in familiar company, with four fellow Tigers in his pack.

Iain Balshaw, Ollie Smith, Paul Grayson, Graham Rowntree, Steve Borthwick and Martin Corry are among those who most obviously need to produce the performances of their lives, for all are scrapping like hell for one of a dwindling number of places.

If Woodward sticks to his plan of fielding something close to a first-choice Test side when France visit Twickenham for an immediate return match on Saturday week, the sextet named above - and Healey - are in now-or-never land.

Samoa, who never fail to punch above their weight in World Cups despite their chronic lack of financial resources, and who compete in England's pool this time, have confirmed Semo Setiti, a No 8 playing his rugby with Borders in Scotland, as their captain for the tournament. Trevor Leota and Terry Fanolua make up the Premiership contingent, while the once magnificent Brian Lima, now earning a crust in Japan, has been selected for his third World Cup.

ENGLAND (World Cup warm-up match v France, Marseilles, Saturday): I Balshaw (Bath); J Lewsey (Wasps), O Smith (Leicester), M Tindall (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton); P Grayson (Northampton), A Healey (Leicester); G Rowntree (Leicester), D West (Leicester, capt), J White (Leicester), S Borthwick (Northampton), D Grewcock (Bath), M Corry (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps). Replacements: S Thompson (Northampton), J Leonard (Harlequins), S Shaw (Wasps), A Sanderson (Sale), A Gommarsall (Gloucester), D Walder (Newcastle), J Noon (Newcastle).

* Only two players from the Ireland team that beat Wales 35-12 earlier this month are included in a new-look side to face Italy in Saturday's World Cup warm-up game at Limerick's Thomond Park. The survivors are the centre Brian O'Driscoll, winning his 39th cap and resuming the captaincy in the absence of Keith Wood, and the fly-half David Humphreys.

IRELAND squad: G Dempsey; J Kelly, B O'Driscoll (capt), R Henderson, D Hickie; D Humphreys, G Easterby; V Costello, E Miller, S Easterby, L Cullen, G Longwell, J Hayes, S Byrne, M Horan. Replacements: P Shields, J Fitzpatrick, D O'Callaghan, K Dawson, B O'Meara, G Murphy, J Bell.