Rugby Union: Rejuvenated Robinson ready for Test return

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The Independent Online

Jason Robinson, the whizz-bang attacking maestro who lit up the Lions tour of Australia in 2001 and scored England's try on their World Cup night of nights three years ago, yesterday declared himself available for Test rugby after a year in international retirement.

His announcement came as a blessed relief to the England head coach, Andy Robinson, who spent much of yesterday afternoon in summit with the Premiership directors of rugby, attempting to find a route through the club-versus-country minefield he fears will blow the national team's chances of retaining the Webb Ellis Trophy.

"That's very interesting indeed," said the coach on being told of the Sale captain's volte-face. "Jason was an outstanding international player and, if he performs over the next few weeks as he performed at the end of last season, he will have to come under consideration. We never shut the door on him. It was his decision to end his England career when he did, not ours."

The 32-year-old player scored 22 tries in 39 union matches for his country after crossing the divide from league with Wigan, initially as a left wing and then as a full-back. "I have been asked about a Test return on a few occasions and you never say never," he said, having spent much of the last 12 months giving every indication that he would rather have stuck pins in his own eyes than link up with England again. "There is a complete new regime in place now and it is an exciting time to be involved. If a call arrives from England, who knows?

"My desire is burning more brightly than ever. I've just had six weeks away from the game - my second proper off-season in 14 years. Last summer, I had three days in Anglesey, and one of those was spent visiting a specialist. I feel as good now, if not better, than at any point in my career."

Meanwhile, Lawrence Dallaglio could be heard spouting forth on what he considers to be serious leadership and fitness problems affecting the red rose army. "I'm not pointing the finger at individuals - it's a collective thing - but leadership is definitely an issue," the Wasps captain said at the launch of the Premiership campaign, which begins tomorrow week. "If you look at the team that won the World Cup, there were a number of senior players capable of stepping up to the plate. A key part of mounting a credible challenge for the trophy in France next year will be re-establishing that culture."

The celebrated Londoner did not know that Martin Corry of Leicester, the current England captain and his successor in the white No 8 shirt he continues to covet, was standing about five feet away. Knowing Dallaglio, he would have said it anyway, for he has strong opinions on these matters. All the same, the timing was a trifle unfortunate.

He also served up a fresh helping of his favourite beef vis-à-vis the England set-up. "When we won the World Cup, we were unquestionably the fittest side in the tournament," he said. "Standards have slipped since then, in my opinion because testing is no longer done on a central basis. Some clubs won't allow it. I think we need to bring it back, because if players are tested against each other every time they attend an England session, it raises the bar and takes people out of their comfort zones."

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