The England coach, Clive Woodward, last night named Mike Tindall in his preliminary 26-man squad for next weekend's Six Nations' Championship match against Ireland at Twickenham.
Although Tindall has not played competitive rugby for some two months, Woodward is clearly keen to gamble on the player's fitness. Tindall has been struggling to recover from an ankle injury and is in the Bath side to face Leeds in tomorrow's Powergen Cup quarter-final even though the Bath head coach, John Connolly, admitted that the centre was not yet 100 per cent fit.
But the message from Woodward is clear: if Tindall comes through the cup tie at Leeds unscathed, he will be seriously considered as a starter against Ireland. That would make sense because the Irish can only be countered with a structured midfield. Tindall has all the attacking qualities for the position but more importantly he possesses the defensive skills required to keep the likes of Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy under a tight rein.
Tindall is one of five players who have been drafted in, one of those being the fit-again Joe Worsley of Wasps. His inclusion explains why the Sale flanker Alex Sanderson was dropped down to the 22-man England A squad announced yesterday. Woodward has also recalled Stuart Abbott, Worsley's Wasps colleague, into the senior party along with James Simpson-Daniel, the Gloucester wing.
Bath's exciting prop Matt Stevens also gets a taste of life among the stars but his teammate, the lock Steve Borthwick, is not so fortunate. Having been named originally on the bench for the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland, Borthwick was subsequently banned after being cited for some foul play on the England captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, and while he has not been completely frozen out, he now finds himself dumped in the A squad.
The Northampton prop Robbie Morris, who was dropped after winning the second of his two caps to date against Italy last year, is back in favour, albeit at the lower level, while there is recognition for the Bath back-rower Andy Beattie and the centre Andrew Higgins. The latter will face stiff competition for a place given that Leicester's hugely talented back Ollie Smith is also included in the A squad.
Woodward will name his 22-man match-day squad on Monday with the unlucky four players almost certainly gaining automatic selection in the A team.
One England player who will not be featuring in England's remaining Six Nations matches is the Sale fly-half Charlie Hodgson. He is still recovering from a knee operation to repair damaged cartilage.
Sale look to have put their recent troubles behind them by announcing last night that Jim Mallinder has agreed to a new three-year contract as coach, but he will work under "an international director of rugby". They expect to announce the appointment next week, the former Gloucester coach Philippe Saint-André being the favourite.
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