Now Robinson faces the real Dallaglio dilemma

A place in the squad was the easy part, the big questions are - should he play, and if so where and instead of whom?
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As comebacks go it is hardly of biblical proportions. Once he had revealed that his decision to retire from Test rugby was a tad premature, it was always probable that Lawrence Dallaglio would find the path back to the England squad strewn with rose petals.

This is not as surprising as his opting out 17 months ago, when he appeared in the Spirit of Rugby suite at Twickenham and declared that after 10 years it was time to leave the international stage. "Instinctively I would know when to go," he said. His departure was overshadowed the next day by the announcement that Sir Clive Woodward was also on his way.

Now that his body clock has recovered from a leap year, Dallaglio's instincts tell him it is time to return. He has missed the experience, and financial rewards, of playing for England - "you live the dreams of the whole nation and have the ability to inspire and enrich others" - and his country has undoubtedly missed him. Andy Robinson's reign since succeeding Sir Clive as coach has been average. Actually, in the Six Nations last season it was worse as the Red Rose chariot crashed to fourth with three defeats, managing victories only over Italy and Scotland.

If he'd had any hair left Dallaglio would have been tempted to tear it out. Now he's back in the Six Nations squad, saying that he has earned it on his form for Wasps this season rather than his 73 caps, his two stints as England captain and a World Cup winner's medal.

Yet something doesn't add up. England have no fewer than eight back-row forwards in their squad of 36, which will be whittled down to 22 for the championship opener against Wales at Twickenham on 4 February. They already have an established No 8 in Martin Corry, who also happens to be the captain. Two into one won't go.

"It's great to be able to include Lawrence," Robinson said. "He has done well for Wasps and his appetite to play for England again is huge. However, he knows as well as anyone that the back row is massively competitive and like any player he will need to work hard to be selected."

Dallaglio can work his socks off, but where can he fit in? In the past he has played in all three positions in the back row but it was when he was No 8, flanked by Neil Back and Richard Hill, that all was right in England's world. The question facing Robinson is simple: is Dallaglio a better player than Corry? There's a rider as well: would he be a better captain in the longer term, and is that what Dallaglio is looking at?

He says his goal is to retain the World Cup, which is in France next year, something which no country has achieved before. Robinson says: "Martin Corry will be the captain for the Six Nations. He was inspirational during the autumn and we believe he is the man to lead England throughout the tournament."

In some ways professional rugby mirrors football, but not yet in the dreaded vote of confidence which passes as a P45, so Corry should be safe - for now. He could not hold down a Test place on the Lions tour of New Zealand because he was considered short of pace. Both Corry and Dallaglio have admirable qualities, but time is not on their side.

When the World Cup comes around the former will be 34, the latter, who has been invalided out of the last two Lions tours, 35. Thank goodness then, almost as a counter-balance, for the inclusion of Magnus Lund. The 22-year-old open-side flanker from Sale, a product of the club's academy, has benefited from playing in a dynamic back row and Robinson is going to have to introduce younger blood sooner or later. He could argue that when he tried a transfusion last season, with Mathew Tait at centre in the opener against Wales in Cardiff, England got a bloody nose but it's still no reason to be ultra conservative.

Wales's problems are of a very different kind. Mike Ruddock, who concocted a Grand Slam on a dash of wit and style with a twist of wisdom, has been at his wits end assembling a squad of 30. He is missing Ryan Jones, Brent Cockbain, Luke Charteris and Chris Horsman from the pack and Gavin Henson, Tom Shanklin and Kevin Morgan from his ground-breaking back line. To cap it all Sonny Parker announced his retirement from the international game just as his name was being pencilled in.

When asked how he wanted his eggs done, Mr Ruddock did not reply sunny side up. No wonder that he preferred to highlight what he does have, which is the return of the Scarlets wing Mark Jones. But for two crippling knee injuries Jones would have been closer to 40 caps than the 16 he has won, the last in Brisbane in 2003 when Wales took England to the edge in the World Cup quarter-finals. "He is now playing some terrific rugby and scoring tries," Ruddock said. "He is recognised as a great finisher and line-breaker."

Talking of which, Brian O'Driscoll, whose Lions tour was as shattering as it was for Dallaglio, is back to lead Ireland following an operation to his shoulder, one of a 10-strong Leinster contingent. London Irish, who have more of an Afrikaans accent nowadays, do not have a single representative.

First up for Ireland, who had a lacklustre autumn, are Italy, who have a new coach in the former France scrum-half Pierre Berbizier. His first serious imprint has been to dispense with the services of one of Italy's greatest servants, the scrum-half and captain Alessandro Troncon.

One of the biggest problems confronting Frank Hadden, the coach of Scotland, is not at scrum-half, where they are blessed, but at stand-off where they are not. Gordon Ross of Leeds rejoins the squad to challenge Dan Parks, although Hadden may play his ace and switch Chris Paterson from the wing. He does not have much time to get it right. They play France at Murrayfield two weeks from today.

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