TV interference forces Robinson to drop Dawson

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The Independent Online

Andy Robinson took precious little nonsense from over-talkative scrum-halves during his playing days with Bath, and is taking even less now that he is England's acting head coach.

Andy Robinson took precious little nonsense from over-talkative scrum-halves during his playing days with Bath, and is taking even less now that he is England's acting head coach. Yesterday, Robinson dropped Matthew Dawson, a former red rose captain and one of the senior members of the World Cup-winning side, from the national training squad, effectively telling him that he could be a rugby player or a man about town, but not both.

Dawson, capped 65 times, missed the first of England's get-togethers, a two-day gathering at the team base in Surrey, because of what he described as "a long-standing commitment that simply could not be reversed". The 31-year-old half-back, who moved to Wasps from Northampton in the summer, is known to covet a career in television and recently signed up with the BBC for a regular stint on A Question of Sport. Rugby Football Union sources said Dawson's failure to attend was indeed due to broadcasting commitments.

This was too much for Robinson, who has never been afraid to make his feelings known to the England glitterati, as Lawrence Dallaglio discovered a couple of seasons back. On that occasion, Robinson confronted the celebrated No 8 in front of other players, questioning his motivation and demanding his complete devotion to the red rose cause. While Dallaglio came up with the right answers, and backed up his words with actions, Dawson was unable to satisfy the coach of his unwavering commitment. Hence his unceremonious relegation from the élite of the English game.

"I respect Matt's decision and wish him well," Robinson said, after marking Dawson absent from the training stint. "It is important the England squad make full use of their days together. Matt was unable to attend due to business commitments. We're both disappointed with the situation, but the door is still open for a return at some point, should his priorities change." That last stinging comment underlined the depth of the coach's anger.

Although Dawson said he aimed to reclaim his place among the favoured few, there is little prospect of an early return. Robinson has few options in the scrum-half department - Kyran Bracken's retirement from international rugby leaves him with the Gloucester half-back Andy Gomarsall, the uncapped Harry Ellis of Leicester and the highly-regarded but scarcely visible Clive Stuart-Smith, who cannot make Worcester's starting line-up despite his reputation among the coaching fraternity. However, the coach is hardly the sort to compromise his principles for short-term convenience.

Gomarsall and Ellis are the obvious candidates for the autumn international series, which sees South Africa, Australia and Canada at Twickenham in November.

Because of retirements, long-term injuries and the decisions to drop both Mike Catt and Dawson, only 11 of the 22-man World Cup final squad have a chance of facing the Canadians on 13 November.

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