One strike - or rather, one non-strike - and you're out. Steve Borthwick and Alex Sanderson, one quarter of England's starting pack against France on Saturday and two of the biggest disappointments, were yesterday dropped from Clive Woodward's 43-strong World Cup squad, along with half a dozen others. Woodward must now pick 30 from the remaining 35. Borthwick and Sanderson must pick themselves off the floor and fix their gaze on 2007.
Jamie Noon, the Newcastle centre, and Dan Scarbrough, the Leeds full-back, are also among the "not wanted on voyage" brigade. Both played in the defeat of Wales 10 days ago, but neither made the most of the opportunity they were awarded that day. Noon has been out-lasted by Stuart Abbott of Wasps, a more incisive runner whose defensive frailties do not appear to be of immediate concern to Woodward. Scarbrough has paid a heavy price for some very public fumbles and hesitations in Cardiff.
The other drop-outs - the Sale hooker Andy Titterrell, the Wasps prop Will Green, the Gloucester flanker Andy Hazell and the Newcastle outside-half David Walder - were never truly on the starting grid for a flight to Australia, let alone on pole. Walder, however, is seen as Jonny Wilkinson's heir apparent, and a strong Premiership campaign could earn him a tour of Six Nations duty in the new year.
Of the eight, Borthwick will be most disappointed. Sanderson must have expected a heave-ho after an error-strewn display at No 8 against the Tricolores, and anyway, was behind Lawrence Dallaglio and Joe Worsley in the pecking order. Borthwick, the Bath lock, would have been more hopeful after edging Wasps' Simon Shaw from the Test 22 when England played the Wallabies in June. Sadly for him, the red rose line-out collapsed at the weekend. And the line-out is Borthwick's speciality.
"I have made these tough decisions earlier than intended," said Woodward, who will confirm his final travelling party on Monday. "This was in order to give the players as much notice as possible so they can return to their clubs and prepare for the Premiership season. All eight have been outstanding in their attitude on and off the field."
His final cut of five depends on positional arithmetic as much as individual selection. Iain Balshaw, James Simpson-Daniel and Dan Luger appear to be contesting one place, as do Alex King and Paul Grayson at outside-half and Austin Healey and Andy Gomarsall at scrum-half. It will be agonisingly tight.Reuse content