Sanderson spearheads new back-row generation

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The Independent Online

The wheels may be coming off with a vengeance at Sale, who have lost every last trace of their earlyseason swagger in the space of two catastrophic Premiership weekends, but Alex Sanderson, their youthful captain, is continuing to accelerate through the red rose rankings on a full set of slicks. Clive Woodward, the England coach, named Sanderson yesterday in a 30-man squad for the forthcoming Twickenham dates with Australia, Argentina and South Africa, and he now joins Joe Worsley, of Wasps, as a leading light of the new back-row generation.

The wheels may be coming off with a vengeance at Sale, who have lost every last trace of their earlyseason swagger in the space of two catastrophic Premiership weekends, but Alex Sanderson, their youthful captain, is continuing to accelerate through the red rose rankings on a full set of slicks. Clive Woodward, the England coach, named Sanderson yesterday in a 30-man squad for the forthcoming Twickenham dates with Australia, Argentina and South Africa, and he now joins Joe Worsley, of Wasps, as a leading light of the new back-row generation.

Although Sanderson can pass muster in all three loose forward positions - those who say he is best at open side can be heard arguing the toss with those who regard him as a born blind-side specialist, while the Sale selectors are currently running him at No 8 - there is no immediate likelihood of his winning a full cap. Worsley, a regular bench-bunny since breaking into Woodward's World Cup party a year ago, has also mastered rugby's version of the three card trick and will probably beat his rival to a place in the 22 for the opening Test with the Wallabies on 18 November.

Nevertheless, his promotion from under-21 rugby is highly significant. At 20, Sanderson is the most destructive back-rower in the country, and in an age that values defensive security almost as dearly as life itself, his expertise in this area guarantees him a long and influential career at high representative level. His captaincy skills, honed and burnished during a lengthy stint at the top end of the school and age-group game, also counts in his favour. Indeed, many good judges regard him as an even-money bet to lead England at the 2007 World Cup, if not before.

By which time, a club colleague by the name of Charlie Hodgson may be in the international frame. Charlie who? Good question. There are people at Sale who would not know him from Adam, not least because he has yet to play a single minute of Premiership rugby. But Woodward clearly knows a thing or two about him, for he has named the 19-year-old stand-off from Bradford Grammar School, Durham University and the Old Brodleians club, no less, among a 16-strong development contingent who will train with thesenior party at their first gettogether on Monday week.

Hodgson, a goal-kicking playmaker with a startling turn of speed, will find himself in very good company indeed when he pitches up at Bagshot for the biggest run-around of his career to date: a clutch of exciting Newcastle backs will be there, including Jamie Noon and Michael Stephenson, as will a quartet of England tourists in South Africa last summer - Liam Botham, Rob Thirlby, Andy Long and Andrew Sheridan. Most intriguing of all is the presence of Andrew Mower, a rough handful of a flanker from Sydney, amongst the "developers". A hot performer for Newcastle of late, Mower's polyglot ancestry gives him four different national qualifications, and the Welsh coach, Graham Henry, has been on his case. Woodward, crafty as ever, appears to have beaten Henry to the punch, however.

There are no great surprises in the main body of the squad. The captaincy remains with Leicester's Martin Johnson - hardly a revolutionary move by Woodward, given England's recent successes in Springbok country - and there is a place for his immediate predecessor, Matt Dawson, even though the Northampton scrum-half has yet to take the field in anger after summer surgery on a crumbling shoulder joint. Dawson hopes to make a low-key comeback in about three weeks and, assuming all goes well, he will be on the bench for the Wallaby match.

Among those on whom the door has slammed shut are Tim Stimpson, the Leicester full-back, and two of his club-mates at opposite ends of the age scale, the long-serving prop Darren Garforth and the ambitious young centre Leon Lloyd. Yesterday's announcement was a real smack in the teeth for the latter, but Ben Johnston, of Saracens, was always going to be given first shot at Mike Tindall's outside centre berth.

Garforth's chances of hanging on in there disappeared when Phil Vickery sent out the right messages concerning his fitness. The Gloucester prop returns to full-time Premiership action against Bristol at Kingsholm this weekend, a match that sees the debut of the world-class formerWallaby midfielder, Jason Little.

ENGLAND SQUADS

TRAINING SQUAD for Tests against Australia (18 Nov), Argentina (25 Nov) and South Africa (2 Dec): Backs: M Perry (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), J Lewsey (Wasps), I Balshaw (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton), D Luger (Saracens), B Johnston (Saracens), M Tindall (Bath), W Greenwood (Harlequins), M Catt (Bath), A King (Wasps), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), K Bracken (Saracens), M Dawson (Northampton). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), D Flatman (Saracens), P Vickery (Gloucester), J White (Saracens), P Green (Wasps), M Regan (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), D Grewcock (Saracens), S Borthwick (Bath), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps), J Worsley (Wasps), M Corry (Leicester), A Sanderson (Sale).

DEVELOPMENT SQUAD: D Barnes (Bath), C Horsman (Bath), A Long (Bath), A Sheridan (Bristol), A Brown (Bristol), A Mower (Newcastle), A Balding (Leicester), L Moody (Leicester), P Richards (Harlequins), C Hodgson (Sale), J Noon (Newcastle), L Botham (Newcastle), B Gollings (Harlequins), M Stephenson (Newcastle), R Thirlby (Bath), P Sackey (London Irish).

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