Schoolboy steps on England ladder

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Rugby Union


It would be too much to imagine England of all rugby nations taking a risk as inordinate as fielding a teenager, but yesterday the selectors did the next best thing when they plucked an 18-year-old Yorkshire schoolboy from the obscurity of the Third Division and inserted him in their squad.

Though Paul Sampson comes highly recommended, the England manager, Jack Rowell, has never actually seen him play. It would, therefore, metaphorically speaking, bring down the temple walls if Sampson were to go from here and win a place in the team to play Wales at Twickenham on Saturday week. For now, a visit to Twickenham on Sunday to train with the 21 who formed the match squad in France plus eight others will do perfectly well, both for the player and his country.

Sampson plays his rugby for Otley, where he is coached by the former England captain, Nigel Melville. He was England Schools' full-back in last season's defeats of Australia and by New Zealand, but was subsequently moved to the wing. It is in the latter position that he is apparently under greater consideration - insofar as he is at all at present - with pressure thought to be mounting on England's most capped player, Rory Underwood, and other contenders such as Tony Underwood, Ian Hunter and James Naylor all injured.

Rowell has incessantly complained this season that, among other things, the developmental aspects of England rugby has been so neglected that he has no chance of a seamless transition from the old era of Andrew, Moore, etc to the new. In this context, Sampson's elevation now is intended to make his future progression, if he proves so worthy, as painless as possible. "There is an excitement in reaching so far down the supply chain," Rowell said. "The hope is that when he develops later on and returns to the international squad he will not be overawed."

Having lost in France, England have a number of issues to address; hence, in particular, the inclusion of three back row men - Rodber, Diprose and Robinson - as the only additions to the forwards. Adedayo Adebayo is another extra wing and Damian Hopley has played there twice for England this season. Alex King and Will Greenwood, like Sampson, are there for the experience.

Nothing radical should be expected when the team is finalised, at the weekend. France, by contrast, will have to make at least one change. Yesterday the French federation brought the Richard Dourthe affair to its logical conclusion by suspending the 21-year-old centre for 30 days, taking in the Five Nations matches in Scotland on Saturday week and against Ireland in Paris a fortnight later.

After issuing an anguished mea culpa on Tuesday for the rush of adrenalin which he says caused him to stamp on Ben Clarke's exposed head, Dourthe expected nothing less. He told the federation he would accept whatever punishment it saw fit. The Scotland selectors, meanwhile, yesterday left their team unchanged from that which unexpectedly won in Dublin.

The smooth progression into the full England side that Rowell desires is strangely served by the half-dozen changes in the A team to play New South Wales in Leicester on Wednesday. England A, remember, won in France before the seniors lost.

On the other hand, the selection does have the advantage of allowing the selectors to view a wider range of would-be internationalists, the most significant introduction being Austin Healey's at scrum-half. As the Orrell player has the speed of the wing he used to be as well as burgeoning scrum-half skills, he could be challengingMatthew Dawson and Kyran Bracken, before long.

New South Wales win , page 23


ENGLAND TRAINING SQUAD (Five Nations' Championship v Wales, Saturday 3 February): Backs: M Catt (Bath), P Sampson (Otley), J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester), P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton), J Callard (Bath), P De Glanville (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol), D Hopley (Wasps), W Greenwood (Harlequins), A Adebayo (Bath), A King (Bristol University), A Gomarsall (Wasps). Forwards: G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), S Ojomoh (Bath), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps), V Ubogu (Bath), G Dawe (Bath), D Richards (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), A Robinson (Bath), A Diprose (Saracens).

ENGLAND A (v New South Wales, Leicester, Wednesday 31 January): T Stimpson (West Hartlepool); P Hull (Bristol), A Blyth (West Hartlepool), W Greenwood (Harlequins), A Adebayo (Bath); A King (Bristol University), A Healey (Orrell); R Hardwick (Coventry), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), G Archer (Bristol), J Fowler (Sale), M Corry (Bristol), A Diprose (Saracens, capt), R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: P Mensah (Harlequins), R Liley (Sale), A Gomarsall (Wasps), K Yates (Bath), P Greening (Gloucester), C Sheasby (Harlequins).

SCOTLAND (v France, Murrayfield, Saturday 3 February): R Shepherd (Melrose); C Joyner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling Co), M Dods (Northampton); G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling Co), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee High School FP), J Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool captain), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacements: K Logan (Stirling Co), C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle), S Murray (Edinburgh Academicals), P Burnell (London Scottish), J Hay (Hawick).