Jonathan Davies: The bodies are fine, now for the minds

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The Independent Online

It's all in the mind now as our World Cup squads set off on their last few weeks of preparations. The painful part, the naming of those players excluded from the final 30, is over, so now they can get down to the real bonding and the fine-tuning that is essential for tactics and morale.

The man-management will be more important than ever. The build-up before the first games is so supercharged with tension that this is where the coach earns his corn. No matter how well the players have been prepared, these last weeks are crucial. It is so easy for them all to get sick of the sight of each other, or for doubts to be sown about this or that aspect of their approach to the greatest rugby prize of all.

England will undoubtedly be the strongest of all the home nations in this respect. They have had an excellent build-up, and the signs of Clive Woodward's meticulousness are everywhere to be seen. Even their jerseys have performed exceptionally. Jason Robinson was often losing the power and pace of his jinking runs because opponents could catch a handful of his jersey even if they couldn't catch him. But the new skin-tight England garb is a winner. England played very well to beat the French at Twickenham last weekend, but the jerseys played a blinder, too.

Of all the squads, England's would have been the hardest to select. Woodward was spoiled for choice in practically every position. The second-string pack he played against Wales two weeks ago would have wiped out most packs in the world. That makes a lot of players unlucky to be left at home. By and large, the England coach has stuck with the specialists, which meant a body-blow for the enthusiastic and versatile Austin Healey. I am not sure Healey has fully recovered from injury but, in any case, England will be better served in vital positions like scrum-half with those born to the task.

But there are two areas where a touch of versatility has helped. The unluckiest player to be left behind is Simon Shaw, the big second-row from Wasps who would be an automatic choice for any other pack in the world. The only reason that Woodward can afford to leave him out and go for only three specialist locks is that the in-form Martin Corry can move forward from the back row to such good effect.

The only position in the squad where there isn't great strength in depth is at outside-half. The brilliance of Jonny Wilkinson does not offer his deputies many career prospects, but you need good back-up in this department and, most certainly, England will be resting their big players for matches against the likes of Georgia and Samoa.

It's sad for Alex King, and for England, that injury robs him of this deserved opportunity, but they are fortunate to have Paul Grayson, and that Mike Catt has come through to offer his experience at numbers 10 and 12.

Another unlucky player in my view is the Gloucester wing James Simpson-Daniel, who would have been able to offer something different. He has the ability to break defences down and is very good with the ball in hand. I have no complaints about either Dan Luger or Iain Balshaw, but they are very similar types of players, and I would have preferred to be able to call on the special benefits that Simpson-Daniel can offer.

There will be plenty of time to assess England's chances of achieving their tremendous potential, but even at this stage the other three home nations will be adjusting to lower levels of ambition.

Losing Geordan Murphy is a massive blow to the Irish, who now look very thin at full-back and centre. So much is going to be demanded of their forwards in a group in which Australia and Argentina loom large.

Scotland's forwards will also be hoping for a better return for all their hard work. Their failure to turn possession into points is a dangerous handicap, especially when playing teams like Fiji.

Wales, and I mean the entire nation, will be very disappointed if they do not reach the quarter-finals. Chris Wyatt is unlucky not to be going, but at least they now have a permanent captain in Colin Charvis.

There's a vital selection decision to be made at No 10, but they are starting to show improvement, and if they pick a side capable of winning ball and getting over the advantage line I believe they can account for Italy, Canada and Tonga. Then they would meet England, but we'll talk about that when it comes.

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