Robinson gives youth its chance in brave new world

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For the five uncapped players in the 30-man party - the Wasps full-back Mark Van Gisbergen, the Gloucester scrum-half Peter Richards and his second-row colleague Alex Brown, the Bath hooker Lee Mears and the former Leicester prop Perry Freshwater, who now earns his corn with Perpignan - the writing on the wall is far more encouraging. Of these, only Van Gisbergen and Brown have realistic chances of starting the match with the touring Wallabies on 12 November, although Mears is certain to feature on the bench. However, all of them have been promoted ahead of formidable rivals for red rose preferment.

When England take the field against Australia, there will be something of the shock of the new about them, just as there was when Woodward marked the start of his tenure by awarding five new caps in the corresponding fixture eight years ago.

The good knight was young, brave and ambitious then; indeed, it was not until his career in rugby union entered its death throes, with the Lions in New Zealand last summer, that he started picking people on the basis of past deeds. At the mid-point of the World Cup cycle, Robinson has no intention of making a similar mistake. As well as the undecorated quintet, he has included the exhilaratingly athletic Gloucester No 8 James Forrester, the Leeds lock Tom Palmer - long spoken of as a Test contender, but never given a run - and Pat Sanderson, the Worcester captain, who performed so courageously on the open-side flank during the "tour of hell" in 1998 and, more to the point, has been playing out of his skin for the better part of a year.

This brave new world might have been braver still had Tom Rees, the brilliant young Wasps flanker, been fully fit. Robinson confirmed yesterday that the England under-21 captain would be re-considered the moment he strings together a few games at club level. He might also have selected the 20-year-old try-scoring phenomenon from Leicester, Tom Varndell, had the equally dynamic but more sophisticated James Simpson-Daniel not come through his comeback match for Gloucester last weekend. As it was, Simpson-Daniel put an important try past Northampton and earned himself a recall.

Robinson flatly denied that his bold selection was geared more towards the 2007 World Cup than the games with Australia, New Zealand and Samoa in London. "The World Cup will look after itself," he said. "I'm focusing on the internationals immediately ahead of us and to that end I've picked people I consider to be in form. Alex Brown, for example, has played exceptionally well this season, and I've been watching Lee Mears with interest for some time. Van Gisbergen we all know about, and now that he's qualified to play for England, he's been chosen. I have no doubt we can win all three autumn fixtures."

Three players - Rees, Andy Farrell (who has yet to play a serious game of union following his cross-code switch from league) and a chap by the name of Wilkinson (who might have been playing league for the last 18 months, for all the union cognoscenti have seen of him) - were ruled out through injury. The other omissions, most notably the Leicester tight-forward axis of Rowntree, White and Kay, have been dumped in the most abrupt fashion, although all three have been placed on stand-by as cover over the next six weeks or so. Some people, largely to be found in the committee rooms of the Rugby Football Union, believe the likes of Martin Corry, Charlie Hodgson, Mark Cueto and Andrew Sheridan should have been given the thumbs-down too, on account of their decision to break the now notorious 11-week rest rule and play Premiership rugby. Robinson did not consider such action for a second, despite his implacable resistance to any flouting of the 11-week rule. Instead, he reappointed Corry, the Leicester No 8, as captain on account of his sterling efforts in last season's Six Nations Championship. "There is a way ahead on this issue and it's being discussed by the RFU and Premier Rugby," the coach said, diplomatically.

"What is more, it's being discussed in the right place - around a table, rather than in public." Interestingly, the teenage Newcastle back Mathew Tait is among those placed on stand-by - the closest he has been to the Test team since he was blown out by Robinson after the defeat in Wales last February. England's new midfield combination is likely to feature Mike Tindall at inside centre rather than in his more customary outside centre role, provided intensive work on his kicking game bears fruit.

* The Ospreys full-back Gavin Henson has been ruled out of Wales' autumn Tests as he faces eight weeks of conditioning and rehabilitation after undergoing surgery in Germany to try to cure a long-standing groin problem.

Changing of old guard: Reputations carry little weight as England pick on form

BACKS

I Balshaw (Leeds)

M Van Gisbergen (Wasps)

J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester)

M Cueto (Sale)

J Lewsey (Wasps)

S Abbott (Wasps)

M Tindall (Gloucester)

J Noon (Newcastle)

O Smith (Leicester)

C Hodgson (Sale)

A Goode (Leicester)

M Dawson (Wasps)

H Ellis (Leicester)

P Richards (Gloucester)

FORWARDS

A Sheridan (Sale)

P Freshwater (Perpignan)

P Vickery (Gloucester)

M Stevens (Bath)

S Thompson (Northampton)

L Mears (Bath)

S Shaw (Wasps)

D Grewcock (Bath)

A Brown (Gloucester)

T Palmer (Leeds)

M Corry (Leicester, capt)

C Jones (Sale)

L Moody (Leicester)

P Sanderson (Worcester)

J Worsley (Wasps)

J Forrester (Gloucester)

STAND-BY PLAYERS

G Rowntree (Leicester), A Titterell (Sale), J White (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), S Borthwick (Bath), A Hazell (Gloucester), O Barkley (Bath), M Tait (Newcastle), T Voyce (Wasps), D Scarbrough (Saracens).

AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS

England v Australia
(12 Nov, Twickenham)

England v New Zealand
(19 Nov, Twickenham)

England v Samoa
(26 Nov, Twickenham)

ALEX BROWN

Age: 26

Position: Lock

Club: Gloucester

Andy Robinson had any number of line-out burglars at his disposal - Ben Kay of Leicester, Steve Borthwick of Bath, Craig Gillies of Worcester - but he plumped for the least experienced of them. Brown may talk like a Brideshead pampered party animal, but his work-rate is that of someone more than happy to get his hands dirty. The Gloucester second-row forward started well last year, too, but slipped off his own high pace midway in the campaign. This time, he looks ready to go the distance.

LEE MEARS

Age: 26

Position: Hooker

Club: Bath

Little Lee is not the tallest of hookers. At 5ft 9ins, he is an inch above his rival for a squad place, Andy Titterrell of Sale, but as bigger front-rowers find themselves packed off to bed before 9pm, this is not saying much. There has been a buzz around Mears for a while now, and with Jonathan Humphreys' retirement guaranteeing him a Bath starting place, he is beginning to motor. Michael Foley, his club coach, believes him to be a good 'un. As a World Cup-winning hooker himself, Foley should know.

MARK VAN GISBERGEN

Age: 28

Position: Full-back

Club: Wasps

In the week Jason Robinson ended his international career, a genuine full-back, as opposed to an improvised one, has emerged. Van Gisbergen, born in New Zealand's Waikato province and reared as an outside-half, qualified for England on residency grounds a fortnight ago, having played a central role as last line of defence, counter-attacker supreme and goal-kicker extraordinaire in Wasps' run of three straight Premiership titles. If he is half as effective on the Test stage...

Comments