Tait turns up to put a glow back in England squad

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The Independent Online

Almost two-thirds! Wonders will never cease. Andy Robinson, the England head coach, had a 65 per cent active turn-out for yesterday's squad session at Loughborough University - a marginal improvement on last week and miles better than the week before, when his elite party looked like they were participating in the retreat from Moscow.

What was more, Mathew Tait was among those spotted on the training field. It is far too early suggest that things are looking up for the ailing world champions, but they are no longer looking down quite so alarmingly.

Tait, who was picked for both Tests against Australia during the summer, has been struggling with knee problems, to the extent that his chances of facing the All Blacks at Twickenham on 5 November remain more distant than either he or Robinson imagined at the start of the campaign. But the Newcastle midfielder is very much on the hierarchy's radar as first-choice outside centre at next year's World Cup, and they would love to give him a run in at least one of the forthcoming autumn internationals.

As per usual, the big names attending the session were matched all the way by the big names staying at home. Lawrence Dallaglio and Phil Vickery, two World Cup-winning forwards who played their first games of the season on Sunday, were not present. Neither were poor old Andy Farrell, diplomatically said to be "continuing his development with Saracens", or Jamie Noon, another of Newcastle's phalanx of high-quality midfielders. Noon was granted leave following the birth of his second child.

Along with the regular call-ups from outside the squad, the coaches sent for Scott Bemand, the Leicester scrum-half. Bemand returned uncapped from the visit to Wallaby country in June, but performed well enough at the start of the Premiership season to gain parity with Harry Ellis, the senior half-back at Welford Road and last season's preferred choice at Test level.

The New Zealanders are doing everything in their power, along with some things many believe should be outside their power, to stay fit and fresh over the next 11 months - hence the decision of the head coach, Graham Henry, to withhold 22 players from next year's Super 14 tournament.

This has caused a furore that may yet end in broadcasters and sponsors taking legal action against the country's governing body, so there is more than a whiff of irony about the fact that some major names, including Doug Howlett on the wing and Richie McCaw in the back row, are in danger of missing the autumn trip to these parts because of problems at the weekend.

Howlett strained knee ligaments playing for Auckland, while McCaw, the current captain, suffered something very like concussion for the umpteenth time in his brilliant but troubled career. He was led off, complaining of blurred vision, during Canterbury's defeat at the hands of Wellington.

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