Tindall and Grewcock lift England

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The Independent Online

Mike Tindall and Danny Grewcock used to be part of the Twickenham chorus line, undervalued hired hands who spent their international careers supporting top-of-the-bill attractions like Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson. Suddenly, they find themselves on centre stage, smack-bang in the spotlight.

Mike Tindall and Danny Grewcock used to be part of the Twickenham chorus line, undervalued hired hands who spent their international careers supporting top-of-the-bill attractions like Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson. Suddenly, they find themselves on centre stage, smack-bang in the spotlight.

Both return to the England team for this weekend's Six Nations Championship match with Wales - a fixture of considerable significance, given the red-rose surrender to the Irish 10 days ago - and their coach, Clive Woodward, seems so relieved to have them back that they could almost have named their price.

The two Bath players will start in a line-up showing four changes, one of them positional, from the last shambolic outing. Woodward said yesterday that there was not so much as a hint of panic in the world champions' camp, but his knickers would have been in a fearful twist had his new favourites not recovered from their respective ankle injuries in time for the game.

In Tindall, he has a genuine outside-centre who understands that the effective and the spectacular do not always amount to the same thing. In Grewcock, he has brute strength and ruthless intent, neither of which were much in evidence against Ireland.

Tindall's reappearance allows Jason Robinson to drop out of midfield and take over the full-back's role from the out-of-form Iain Balshaw, whose latest injury problems saved Woodward the trouble of dropping him.

Grewcock replaces his club partner, Steve Borthwick, in the second row. With Chris Jones of Sale, the elongated freak with a long-jumper's legs and the natural spring of a Michael Jordan in rugby boots, reclaiming the blind-side flanker's berth from Joe Worsley, England have a better-than-even chance of winning a couple of clean balls at the line-out, which would be one more than they managed last time out.

There are changes among the reinforcements, too. Olly Barkley and Matt Stevens have lost out to Mike Catt and Julian White, two World Cup medal-winners who have just risen from their sickbeds, while Neil Back has been squeezed off the bench by the demoted Worsley. Back, a hugely influential figure with 66 caps and two Lions tours to his name, announced his retirement from the international game with effect from the end of the month only a few hours before Woodward named his team. Woodward said the flanker's decision had been irrelevant.

"Had I thought Back was the right call for this weekend, I would have picked him," he insisted. "I've gone for what I consider to be the strongest back row, and it doesn't include Neil."

Back's decision to follow Johnson, Kyran Bracken and Jason Leonard into the wide blue yonder did not generate widespread shock. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the immediate aftermath of the World Cup triumph in Australia, he felt every bit as indestructible as he had appeared throughout his long years of extraordinary dedication to the disciplines of physical conditioning and technical fine-tuning, but at 35, his rejection by Woodward at the start of the Six Nations effectively cast him in the past tense.

Back's recall to the bench against Ireland was largely a result of Worsley's lack of fitness, and when the coaching staff declined to give him a run during the second half despite the Irish ascendancy, the message was loud and clear.

England will miss him, though. Back led his country on several important occasions - against the Wallabies in 2001, against Wales and Italy in the 2002 Six Nations - and was the "defensive captain" of the side through the latter years of his Test career. Phil Larder, the specialist defensive coach who handed the Leicester player that responsibility, considered him the most effective tackler he had seen in either form of rugby.

Small of stature but abnormally well endowed in the heart and soul department, Back was one of the principal architects of the World Cup victory. Opposing loose forwards occasionally got the better of him, but they always paid through the nose for their supremacy.

Woodward sees Saturday's contest as a payback fixture - not in terms of any pain the Welsh have managed to inflict on England in recent seasons, but in terms of his own shortcomings in the build-up to the Ireland match. "I pride myself on England being the best-prepared team, of setting standards beyond those of other sides," he said. "I think those standards have slipped since the World Cup and everyone must take responsibility. Especially me."

Wales will name their side tomorrow, and expect to recall Robin McBryde, the experienced Llanelli hooker, to the middle of a front row still recovering from the severe hiding dished out by France. As England's front row have survived intact only after receiving a rocket of Sputnik proportions, it should be an interesting afternoon at the sharp end.

* Saracens yesterday made their third major signing for next season, the Newcastle captain Hugh Vyvyan. Vyvyan, who led his side to the Powergen Cup final with victory over Pertemps Bees on Sunday, captained England A when they won last summer's Churchill Cup. He can play in the second row or back row, and follows the Sale forwards Alex Sanderson and Iain Fullarton to Vicarage Road.

ENGLAND TEAM

(v Wales, Six Nations' Championship, Twickenham, Saturday, 4pm): J Robinson (Sale Sharks); J Lewsey (Wasps), W Greenwood (Harlequins), M Tindall (Bath), B Cohen (Northampton); P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton); T Woodman (Gloucester), S Thompson (Northampton), P Vickery (Gloucester), D Grewcock (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), C Jones (Sale Sharks), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt). Replacements: M Regan (Leeds), J White (Leicester), S Borthwick (Bath), J Worsley (Wasps), A Gomarsall (Gloucester), M Catt (Bath), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester).

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