Woodward spoilt for choice after second string's success

United States 19 England 48
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The Independent Online

There was no prize on offer for England's 11th successive Test win, but their manager Clive Woodward was honoured all the same.

As his team trooped off at a sweltering Balboa Park, they congregated in the dressing- room and stood to applaud as Woodward collected an embroidered England shirt which thanked him for his efforts and offered congratulations for his side's record-breaking run.

The chances are that barely a handful of his side will be retained when the Lions return, but in maintaining an international winning streak and completing a 100 per cent return from a five-match tour, England's future stalwarts have proved why the path Woodward is treading should be followed with confidence. The win over the United States may not have been the most accomplished display on their North American trip. At times they were on the back foot and struggling to contain an enthusiastic American side willing to attack from all areas.

But to score eight tries in any match is a major achievement and although frailties were apparent, there were enough pluses to suggest that Woodward would not be short of options should his major players succumb to injury, tiredness or loss of form over the next 12 months. "My top 19 players are in Australia with the Lions," he said. "I expect them all to come back fitter and stronger for the experience and ready to play for England. I am not anticipating any of them telling me they don't want to be part of what I am building, so the objective for the players on this tour was to try and break into that squad."

In reality, few will make it, certainly in the short term, although Leicester trio Graham Rowntree, Ben Kay and man-of-the-tour Lewis Moody are bound to go close. For 40 minutes of the final game, it appeared that progress had been "awesome", as Woodward would say. The American defence was ripped apart at regular intervals, with the captain, Kyran Bracken, delivering flat, bullet-like passes for Jamie Noon to run on to.

After the break, however, England became strangely subdued, and wires of communication became so badly crossed that the visitors spent more than a few seconds with an extra man on the field. The pace of the American wingers Jone Naqica and Jovesa Naivalu had caused brief panic and the subsequent loss of concentration allowed the home team to reduce the arrears well beyond face-saving proportions.

Indeed, it was England who were flattered most by the final outcome. "Even though we had not spoken about it, the players were aware of the record and I was surprised at how tense the atmosphere was when we met up," said Woodward. "We didn't match the standard of the second game against Canada, but we have achieved the overall objective of winning three Tests."

Woodward now heads Down Under to cast his expert eye over the Lions for domestic television, which should offer a fascinating insight into the handling of his senior players. He will also hold a series of meetings with new Rugby Football Union performance director, Chris Spice, to try and find more meaningful fixtures for his second string.

United States: Tries Naqica 2, Grobler. Conversions Wells 2. England: Tries West, P. Sanderson, Lewsey 2, Worsley, Lloyd 2, Moody. Conversions: Walder 4.

UNITED STATES: Shuman; Naqica, Eloff, Grobler, Naivalu; Wells, Dalzell; McDonald, Khasigian, Still, Gross, Reed, Hodges, Schubert, Lyle.

ENGLAND: Lewsey (Wasps); Lloyd (Leicester), Waters (Wasps), Noon, Stephenson (both Newcastle); Walder (Newcastle), Bracken (Saracens, capt); Rowntree (Leicester), West (Leicester), White (Leicester), Shaw (Wasps), Borthwick (Bath), White-Cooper (Harlequins), Moody (Leicester), Worsley (Wasps). Replacements: Barkley (Bath) for Noon (50), Voyce (Bath) for Walder (73), Wood (Wasps) for Bracken (80), Long (Bath) for West (68), P Sanderson (Saracens) for Worsley (52).

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