Clive Woodward could probably name a 600-man party to cover England's forthcoming Six Nations and summer tour commitments, and still offend rank-and-file rugby supporters up and down the land by omitting a folk hero or two. By restricting his new élite set-up to a mere 60 players – 33 of them banded together in a senior squad, the other 27 rounded up for "development" purposes – the red rose manager ensured that yesterday would be a dark and sombre occasion for some of those who have done him proud in the past.
Take Simon Shaw as an example. As recently as late October, the unusually gifted lock forward from Wasps was scrapping away on behalf of his country in the emerald-tinged bearpit of Lansdowne Road. Less than seven weeks on, his scrapping days appear to be over – at Test level, anyway. Woodward named four second-rowers in what might be called his "grown-up" selection, and Shaw, one of those who carried the can for the Grand Slam defeat in Dublin, was not among them.
If Shaw's has been the most dramatic fall from grace, a number of other front-line performers must now be wondering whether the red rose will bloom for them again. Tim Stimpson, the Leicester full-back, may be the most prolific hunter-gatherer in Premiership rugby – a fact reflected by his selection for England's tour of North America last summer – but he was not in Woodward's thoughts yesterday. Neither were five fellow travellers to Canada and the United States: the Wasps midfielders Fraser Waters and Alex King, their scrum-half club-mate Martyn Wood, the Bath hooker Andy Long and the Harlequins flanker Pat Sanderson.
Woodward would argue that most, if not all, of the above are well past the "development" stage, and Shaw would be the first to admit that the locks in the junior party – Leicester's Louis Deacon, Tom Palmer of Leeds and the two Bristol tiros, Alex Brown and Andrew Sheridan – are worthy of investment. Nevertheless, the more experienced man can consider himself hard done by, especially as a number of other Dublin underperformers, not least the Wasps hooker Phil Greening, have been rehabilitated.
As expected in light of Woodward's current obsession with fast-tracking former rugby league internationals, Henry Paul features among the top dogs; indeed, he is the one uncapped player in the élite 33. Paul was nothing to write home about during his initial flirtation with union in 1996, but his recent performances behind a Gloucester pack well-versed in the art of keeping him on the front foot have been undeniably impressive. As a centre, he operates in one of England's weaker areas and will almost certainly pick up a cap before the squad is reviewed next July.
There is a new centre among the developing fraternity, too, in the unfamiliar shape of Stuart Abbott, who has rejected a blossoming Super 12 career in South Africa and linked up with Wasps instead. Ironically enough, Abbott has taken the place that might otherwise have gone to Waters, his colleague at Loftus Road. Other fresh faces include the wing Mark Cueto, who has beaten his Sale club-mate Steve Hanley to a threequarter spot, and James Simpson-Daniel of Gloucester.
The development squad includes a number of players who know what it is to participate in a major international occasion – David Flatman of Saracens, Trevor Woodman of Gloucester, Leon Lloyd of Leicester, Paul Sampson of Wasps – and it might be argued that they are working their way down the ladder, rather than up it. Unlike the unfortunate Shaw, however, they have an opportunity to restate their case.
England squads for 2001-02 season
N Back (Leicester), I Balshaw (Bath), S Borthwick (Bath), K Bracken (Saracens), M Catt (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton), M Corry (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps), M Dawson (Northampton), P Greening (Wasps), W Greenwood (Harlequins), D Grewcock (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens), C Hodgson (Sale), M Johnson (Leicester), B Kay (Leicester), J Leonard (Harlequins), J Lewsey (Wasps), D Luger (Harlequins), L Moody (Leicester), H Paul (Gloucester), M Perry (Bath), M Regan (Bath), J Robinson (Sale), G Rowntree (Leicester), A Sanderson (Sale), M Tindall (Bath), P Vickery (Gloucester), D West (Leicester), J White (Bristol), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), J Worsley (Wasps)
S Abbott (Wasps), A Balding (Leicester), O Barkley (Bath), A Brown (Bristol), H Charlton (Newcastle), M Cueto (Sale), D Danaher (London Irish), L Deacon (Leicester), H Ellis (Leicester), C Fortey (Gloucester), D Flatman (Saracens), A Hazell (Gloucester), B Johnston (Saracens), L Lloyd (Leicester), J Noon (Newcastle), T Palmer (Leeds), P Sampson (Wasps), A Sheridan (Bristol), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Stephenson (Newcastle), S Thompson (Northampton), A Titterrell (Sale), T Voyce (Bath), D Walder (Newcastle), S White-Cooper (Harlequins), T Woodman (Gloucester), M Worsley (London Irish).Reuse content