Hodgson takes on kicking burden as Robinson gambles

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The Independent Online

At the same time, a number of World Cup-winning veterans - Mike Tindall and Phil Vickery of Gloucester, Matt Dawson of Wasps, Ben Cohen of Northampton - have forced their way back into the red rose mix through weight and quality of performance. As expected, Tindall will fulfil the crucial role of inside centre, having been picked ahead of the Bath midfielder Olly Barkley, who possesses a range of skills more obviously relevant to the position. Robinson justified his decision yesterday by describing Tindall as "the heartbeat of the side".

In terms of physique, the pack will be one of the most formidable ever fielded by the world champions. Andrew Sheridan, a veritable K2 of a front-rower, will make his first international start at loose-head prop, having played magnificently for Sale this season. Steve Thompson and Vickery, no one's idea of a pair of seven-stone weaklings, make up the sharp-end triumvirate, with Danny Grewcock and Steve Borthwick in the engine room. Lewis Moody, who seems to grow more substantial by the week, and Martin Corry continue their Leicester partnership in the back row, aided and abetted by the industrious Worcester captain Pat Sanderson.

This will be Sanderson's seventh cap, but he has yet to play for his country at Twickenham. A survivor of the infamous "tour from hell" in 1998 - his raw courage on that fruitless and futile trip was something to behold - he won his other caps in North America three years later. "You never give up on an England career, do you?" he said after hearing confirmation of his place.

The Australians may be more than a little challenged in the tight-five department, but their habit of picking two specialist open-side flankers in the pocket battleship shapes of George Smith and Phil Waugh makes them a unique threat in the loose. "It's a difficult proposition," Sanderson admitted. "They were terrific in bottling up the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final in 2003. We'll have to be at our most alert to hold them on Saturday."

By picking Van Gisbergen and Barkley on the bench, Robinson is gambling on Charlie Hodgson nailing his goals with a regularity beyond him last season. Indeed, England lost the 2004 game with Australia partly as a result of a marksmanship blow-out, but the coach believes the Sale outside-half has developed the consistency necessary to shoulder the heaviest of rugby burdens.

"All I ask of a kicker is that he wants to do the job and that he knows his own range," Robinson said. "I have no problem with Charlie's temperament. If you see him declining shots at goal against Australia, it will be for the simple reason that they are beyond his distance. I'd sooner he kicks to touch and gives us the chance to drive a line-out than line up speculative kicks at the sticks."

A good argument, but tight games are sometimes won by speculative kicks at the sticks. We are about to discover whether Hodgson has the nerve to make the best of himself.

England team

* v Australia, Saturday, Twickenham 15 J Lewsey (Wasps)

14 M Cueto (Sale)

13 J Noon (Newcastle)

12 M Tindall (Gloucester)

11 B Cohen (Northampton)

10 C Hodgson (Sale)

9 M Dawson (Wasps)

1 A Sheridan (Sale)

2 S Thompson (N'hamptn)

3 P Vickery (Gloucester)

4 S Borthwick (Bath)

5 D Grewcock (Bath)

6 P Sanderson (Worcester)

7 L Moody (Leicester)

8 M Corry (Leicester, capt)

Replacements: L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), L Deacon (Leicester), C Jones (Sale), H Ellis (Leicester), O Barkley (Bath), M van Gisbergen (Wasps).

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