Mitchell rebuffs England's offer

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The Independent Online

It will come as no surprise to anyone that England have failed in their attempt to persuade John Mitchell to stay on as forwards coach. It is a role he has filled in a part-time capacity until now, dividing his time between the national squad and Wasps, where he fulfils the same function.

Instead Mitchell is sticking to his decision, made before Christmas, to take up a post as development officer in Waikato, in his native New Zealand.

The crucial factor in helping to persuade Mitchell to stick to his original decision was Twickenham's timing, a belated three months after he announced his acceptance of the Waikato job. It made little difference that the new post would have been fulltime, because, as Mitchell said yesterday: "Clive Woodward wanted me to go full-time with the England squad, but in the end the offer was just too late.

"I told the Rugby Football Union I had made a commitment to Waikato rugby on 23 December last year. It is a matter of integrity. And I decided to return home for my family's future." Mitchell will take up his new job next month, after England's final Six Nations match, the Calcutta Cup against Scotland in Edinburgh.

Tonight two of the forwards Mitchell has been working with begin the long, hard slog back into first-team favour. Martin Johnson and Danny Grewcock were England's first-choice locks throughout the World Cup before injury ruled them out of the start of the Six Nations. Johnson's Achilles tendon injury meant he also had to relinquish the captaincy and his successor, Matt Dawson, looks to be more master of the household than mere caretaker.

So at L'Aquila Johnson and Grewcock pack down in the second string team as England A take on Italy A. Johnson, at least, has been handed the captaincy of a team showing nine changes from the side which beat Wales A a fortnight ago.

The wing Liam Botham is among half a dozen survivors from that match. The Bath hooker Andy Long has been brought into the front row in place of his club colleague Mark Regan, promoted to reserve with the senior squad. The Saracens prop Julian White is another front-row man who has earned travelling reserve status together with the Leicester centre Will Greenwood. Bedford's flanker Roy Winters is included in the A team back row, with Gloucester's Ed Pearce taking over from Saracens' Tony Diprose.

In the senior side one of the most junior members, Mike Tindall, admitted he cannot "get enough rugby". While many are moaning that there are too many big games for top players and no sign of any respite, the Bath centre said: "To go into the Bath team and perform as we did against London Irish right after playing for England in the victory over Wales is fantastic. At the moment it is a seamless transition going from club to country and back again.

"Bath's performance against Irish was champagne stuff and that just makes you want to keep performing. Games cannot come around enough."

Italy may not feel quite so enthusiastic on the eve of the showdown at the Stadio Flaminio. Their coach, Brad Johnstone, has named a side showing five changes from the one Ireland ran up their record score against 12 days ago. The full-back Matt Pini has failed to recover from a shoulder injured in Dublin and his place goes to Corrado Pilat of Treviso. Christian Stoica moves out to the right wing in place of Juan Sebastien Francesio of Viadana.

The front row sees Massimo Cuttitta relegated to the bench and Andrea Lo Cicero taking over at loosehead prop. In the back row, Walter Cristofoletto comes in for Wim Visser.

ITALY (v England Six Nations' Championship, Rome, tomorrow): C Pilat; C Stoica, N Zisti, L Martin, D Dallan; D Dominguez, A Troncon (capt); A De Rossi, M Bergamasco, W Cristofoletto, A Gritti, C Checchinato, T Paoletti, A Moscardi, A Lo Cicero. Replacements: C Orlandi, M Cuttitta, O Arancio, A Persico, M Mazzantini, G Preo, A Scavanacca.