Simpson-Daniel puts case for unorthodox England

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Six years on from the "tour of hell", when England crossed the Equator with a party of players so unfamiliar that they would not have been recognised by their own mothers, the world champions will return to the diabolical regions of New Zealand and Australia next month shorn of almost half the squad responsible for wrenching the Webb Ellis Cup from Wallaby clutches last November.

Six years on from the "tour of hell", when England crossed the Equator with a party of players so unfamiliar that they would not have been recognised by their own mothers, the world champions will return to the diabolical regions of New Zealand and Australia next month shorn of almost half the squad responsible for wrenching the Webb Ellis Cup from Wallaby clutches last November.

Jason Robinson, Will Greenwood and Ben Kay have been rested; Jonny Wilkinson and Phil Vickery are among the casualties of an unfeasibly long season; Neil Back and a bloke called Johnson have jacked it in. On the face of it, the red rose army is in bits.

Yet they need not, as the poet Dante suggested back in the 14th century when Jason Leonard was just a lad, abandon all hope on passing through the infernal gates en route to Dunedin's "house of pain".

This latest Clive Woodward production looks under-rehearsed in certain areas, not least in midfield, but the Test pack will be formidable - Trevor Woodman or David Flatman at loose head, Steve Thompson at hooker, the ogreish Julian White at tight head and a back five drawn from Simon Shaw, Danny Grewcock, Steve Borthwick, Chris Jones, Joe Worsley, Richard Hill and Lawrence Dallaglio. If the All Blacks and Wallabies have failed to liven up their act at close quarters, England will fancy their chances of pinching a result or two.

Woodward sounded full of beans yesterday as he weighed the prospects. Certainly he gave no indication of fearing humiliation on the scale he suffered in 1998, when England were kicked from one end of the southern hemisphere to the other and marmalised by the Wallabies in Brisbane. "This is an outstanding team," the coach insisted. "I am confident these players will grasp the opportunity."

Greenwood, the creative hub of the English midfield, has looked in need of a fortnight in bed ever since he returned from the World Cup, and Kay, the line-out organiser supreme, is so far out of form that Woodward could have picked half a dozen locks ahead of him and not felt bad about it. Both will benefit from a summer's relaxation.

Robinson does not appear to be on his last legs - quite the opposite, to judge by his display for Sale at Gloucester last weekend, when he scored three tries - but England depend so heavily on his unique brand of counter-attacking brilliance that his absence from this most taxing of treks makes a degree of sense.

There are four uncapped players in the 30-man squad: the Leicester scrum-half Harry Ellis, the Sale hooker Andy Titterrell and two Bath forwards, the tight-head specialist Matt Stevens and the open-side flanker Michael Lipman.

Equally interesting are the recalls of Tom Voyce, the molten-hot wing from Wasps, and his hard-tackling club colleague Fraser Waters. Voyce is scoring tries for fun, while Waters' performances in the centre, where he spearheads the Londoners' extraordinarily physical defensive system, have earned him the undying respect of his peers. Both won their solitary caps against the United States in San Francisco in 2001. Should either collect another on this trip, it will mean immeasurably more.

If Woodward is taking a serious risk, it surrounds two of his World Cup finalists, Matt Dawson, the unsettled Northampton scrum-half, and Mike Catt, the Bath utility back. In a squad lacking hardened Test know-how, their presence will be invaluable. But there are questions over their fitness. Dawson should have turned out at Wasps on Sunday but failed to make the 22, while Catt has played precious little rugby since returning from his last gallop around Australia.

With Phil Christophers, a stand-out performer for an otherwise workaday Leeds side, regaining his place in Woodward's affections after a lean spell, there is a welcome element of the unorthodox about this gathering of talents. Robinson's absence and Josh Lewsey's likely switch to full-back means James Simpson-Daniel, by some distance the most inventive of England's wide-running attackers, will get a chance at Test level - he alone could make the trip worthwhile.

Much interest will be centred on Stuart Abbott, too. The South African-born Wasp is a very different animal to Greenwood - less sophisticated, more explosive - yet the coaches expect him to make himself undroppable for the home Tests in the autumn.

Mike Ruddock, the new Wales coach, has also reacted positively to injuries and unavailability by embracing the shock of the new. Three uncapped players - the Llanelli Scarlets full-back, Barry Davies, and two back-five forwards from the Newport-Gwent Dragons regional side Ruddock left last weekend, the lock Peter Sidoli and the tough-nut flanker Jason Forster - will head for South Africa and Argentina next month, in company with a raft of fringe characters keen to play their way into the mainstream.

Ruddock named a squad of 31, featuring such notoriously unfulfilled talents as Gavin Henson, the Neath-Swansea Ospreys back, and Darren Morris, the roly-poly prop who left Swansea for Leicester at the end of last season and recently discovered the benefits of physical fitness. Rather like Simpson-Daniel with England, Henson and Morris have it in them to make their coach's summer. It is up to them.

ENGLAND AND WALES TOUR SQUADS

ENGLAND SQUAD (for tour to New Zealand and Australia): Backs: S Abbott (Wasps), O Barkley (Bath), M Catt (Bath), P Christophers (Leeds), B Cohen, M Dawson (both Northampton), H Ellis (Leicester), A Gomarsall (Gloucester), C Hodgson (Sale), J Lewsey (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tindall (Bath), T Voyce, F Waters (both Wasps). Forwards: S Borthwick (Bath), M Corry (Leicester), L Dallaglio (Wasps), D Flatman, D Grewcock (both Bath), R Hill (Saracens), C Jones (Sale), M Lipman (Bath), M Regan (Leeds), S Shaw (Wasps), M Stevens (Bath), S Thompson (Northampton), A Titterrell (Sale), A White (Leicester), T Woodman (Gloucester), J Worsley (Wasps).

WALES SQUAD (for tour to Argentina and South Africa): Backs: G Thomas (Toulouse), R Williams (Cardiff Blues), B Davies (Llanelli Scarlets), S Williams (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), N Brew (Newport Gwent Dragons), C Morgan (Cardiff Blues), S Parker (Celtic Warriors), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), H Luscombe (Newport Gwent Dragons), G Henson (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), C Sweeney (Celtic Warriors), N Robinson (Cardiff Blues), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets), M Phillips (Llanelli Scarlets), A Williams (Neath-Swansea Ospreys). Forwards: I Thomas (Llanelli Scarlets), G Jenkins (Celtic Warriors), A Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), Duncan Jones (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), D Morris (Leicester), M Davies (Celtic Warriors), H Bennett (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), S Jones (Newport Gwent Dragons), B Cockbain (Celtic Warriors), Deiniol Jones (Celtic Warriors), G Llewellyn (Swansea), P Sidoli (Newport Gwent Dragons), Dafydd Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), J Thomas (Neath-Swansea Ospreys), J Forster (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Popham (Leeds), C Charvis (Tarbes, capt), M Owen (Newport Gwent Dragons).

Comments