Wilkinson handed silver lining of Canada trip

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The Independent Online

If Jonny Wilkinson - remember him? - plays rugby anywhere this summer, it is likely to be in New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions rather than in North America with England's second-string squad, cobbled together for a Churchill Cup tournament featuring Canada, the United States and Argentina.

If Jonny Wilkinson - remember him? - plays rugby anywhere this summer, it is likely to be in New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions rather than in North America with England's second-string squad, cobbled together for a Churchill Cup tournament featuring Canada, the United States and Argentina. Nevertheless, the red rose army laid claim to the World Cup-winning goal-kicker yesterday, selecting him in a 26-man party to be captained by the Worcester flanker Pat Sanderson, whose contribution to life at Sixways this season has been little short of epic.

Wilkinson has just re-emerged blinking into the daylight of competitive rugby after long months of injury darkness, and was one of three senior England players left half in and half out of the Lions party by Sir Clive Woodward. Like the other marginals, the Bath centre Mike Tindall and the Gloucester prop Phil Vickery, the Newcastle stand-off was given until mid-May to show sufficient form and fitness to justify a business class seat to Auckland.

All three were included in the Churchill Cup list, on the basis that England leave for Edmonton on 9 June, some 15 days after the Lions depart these shores. "We've tried to cover all the bases," explained Andy Robinson, the England head coach. "If any or each of Wilkinson, Tindall and Vickery are added to the Lions squad, all well and good. If not, they may be ready in time for the first game in Edmonton, against Canada on 19 June. There is nothing for anyone to be confused about, or to get excited about, in terms of Jonny being named by England. It's simply a question of giving him every opportunity to play some quality rugby over the summer."

If Andy Farrell, the big-name recruit from rugby league, recovers from knee surgery in time to train, he will accompany the tourists and work alongside them for the duration of the trip. "I think it could be a very valuable experience for him," Robinson said. "But if he's not fit, he won't go. There would be no point."

Four first-choice members of the side that struggled in the Six Nations - the Sale wing Mark Cueto, the Newcastle centre Jamie Noon, the Leicester scrum-half Harry Ellis and the Wasps flanker Joe Worsley - have been rested, along with two World Cup medallists, Northampton's Ben Cohen and a second Wasps forward, Simon Shaw. There is a clear logic to this, although Cueto, who should patently have been selected in the Lions party, is scoring so often these days he would rather keep playing.

Other high-profile players are injured, most notably Steve Borthwick of Bath, who would have captained the squad had his shoulder not given up on him. Borthwick's absence leaves England light in the lock department - Louis Deacon of Leicester will travel, plus two utility forwards in Hugh Vyvyan and Chris Jones, both back rowers by preference. However, there is quality elsewhere, not least in the problem position of centre. Olly Barkley, Chris Bell, James Simpson-Daniel and the much-discussed teenager Mathew Tait will contest two positions, and if Tindall makes the trip, the options will be greater still.

Sanderson, first capped on the "tour from hell" in 1998, deserves the honour of leading his country. "I'm overjoyed by the news," said the 27-year-old breakaway, who played for Sale and Harlequins before fronting Worcester's first Premiership campaign. "There will be a lot of experience and support on board, and we're going to Canada to win."

Iain Balshaw, the Leeds captain afflicted with thigh problems in the early stages of the Powergen Cup final 10 days ago, will miss his team's vital Premiership match with Harlequins at Headingley tonight. The Tykes' director of rugby, Phil Davies, has called the former England full-back Tim Stimpson into a 24-man squad for a game described as "massive for us and our long-term objectives".

Quins, meanwhile, will field Tom Williams at full-back, James Hayter at hooker and Simon Maling at lock, none of whom started the recent home defeat by London Irish that left the famous old club in fear for their top-flight lives.

¿ The Scotland coach, Matt Williams, has been sacked by the Scottish Rugby Union after three Test wins from 17. The Australian took over from Ian McGeechan after the World Cup in 2003. The forwards coach, Willie Anderson, and national coaching co-ordinator, Brett Igoe, have also had their contracts terminated.

England squad

26-man squad for the Churchill Cup in Edmonton, Canada, 19-26 June.

Backs: U Monye (Harlequins), P Sackey (Wasps), T Voyce (Wasps), J Simpson-Daniel (Gloucester), M Tait (Newcastle), M Tindall (Bath), C Bell (Leeds), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), O Barkley (Bath), A Goode (Leicester), A Gomarsall (Gloucester), P Richards (Wasps).

Forwards: M Worsley (Harlequins), P Freshwater (Perpignan), P Vickery (Gloucester), W Green (Wasps), G Chuter (Leicester), P Greening (Wasps), L Deacon (Leicester), T Palmer (Leeds), S Hooper (Leeds), C Jones (Sale), A Hazell (Gloucester), P Sanderson (Worcester, capt), J Forrester (Gloucester), H Vyvyan (Saracens).

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