Woodward is wary of injury and indiscipline

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The Independent Online

Clive Woodward will demand maximum aggression from his players when they take on New Zealand and Australia next month - the kind of aggression that allowed the England pack to asphyxiate the French in the semi-final of the World Cup last November, rather than the variety employed by Danny Grewcock during his head-hunting of Lawrence Dallaglio in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final 12 months ago.

Clive Woodward will demand maximum aggression from his players when they take on New Zealand and Australia next month - the kind of aggression that allowed the England pack to asphyxiate the French in the semi-final of the World Cup last November, rather than the variety employed by Danny Grewcock during his head-hunting of Lawrence Dallaglio in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final 12 months ago.

"Those two are due to meet again before we fly out, but I'm sure there won't be another problem," the red rose coach predicted yesterday. "I expect to see them walking up the aeroplane steps, hand in hand."

Dear God... generations of pug-ugly England forwards must be spinning in their graves at the very thought. But for all his joviality, Woodward raised a serious point. Precisely 50 per cent of his summer tour party are drawn from Bath and Wasps, the Premiership finalists, and therefore have unfinished club business of great importance to concern them before they can begin thinking about granite-faced All Blacks and swaggering Wallabies.

Another nine players from Leicester, Gloucester and Sale have yet to draw a line under their domestic campaigns, thanks to the bamboozling iniquities of the Zurich Premiership Wildcard tournament. The potential for internal mayhem is considerable.

Grewcock's sending-off this time last year cost him his place on England's unprecedentedly successful trip to the Antipodes, and given the amount at stake for the five active teams - Wasps have the small matter of this weekend's Heineken Cup final to occupy them, as well as the Premiership showpiece, while the others are scrapping for European qualification - it will be surprising indeed if every tourist manages to keep his fists and feet to himself.

As Woodward confessed, he could well do without a rash of injuries and disciplinary hearings - not least because almost half the party responsible for winning the Webb Ellis Trophy are already missing. Some have retired, others are hors de combat and three - Jason Robinson, Will Greenwood and Ben Kay - have been rested. Of those, only Robinson asked to be excused; the Sale full-back told Woodward he was "running on empty" and needed a summer off after 11 straight years on the treadmill. The others, tired and stale but still willing, were ordered to take a breather.

"We're hoping and praying that we avoid calamities between now and the start of the tour," Woodward admitted. "It's always a risk, but the club fixture list is there and we have to deal with it.

"The World Cup side was always going to break up; retirements happen because players get old, and injuries happen. The important thing is to pick your strongest available squad - people who are in form and absolutely want to get on the plane."

Woodward being Woodward, he begged a question with almost every answer. Could Matt Dawson be considered a form player? Or Mike Catt? Or Mike Tindall? These senior internationals may have 170 caps between them, but they have been barely visible since returning from the World Cup. "We've taken on board all the medical advice and we think they'll be fit to play," the coach said.

Should Dawson fall short at any point during the three-Test trip, young Harry Ellis of Leicester could well become the sixth scrum-half to start an international under Woodward.

Clive Stuart-Smith, the England Under-21 half-back, had been widely tipped to make the cut for this trip, but his shortage of Premiership rugby counted against him. Ellis, who has been in the thick of it all season, is now ahead of Stuart-Smith in the pecking order and is perfectly capable of pressing an out-of-sorts Andy Gomarsall at some stage in next month's proceedings.

"The important thing to stress is that this is not a tired squad," Woodward insisted. "It's all in the mind; if we start saying we're tired, we'll be tired. Everyone we've named is up for the tour. It's been a long season, yes, and an amazing one in many respects. What better way to end it than by going down there and reminding a few people who won the World Cup?"

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