THE THREE CONTENDERS FOR THE ENGLAND STAND-OFF ROLE

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The Independent Online
In a sense Rob Andrew was always Jack Rowell's convenient excuse for England's failure to play the dynamic rugby of which he talked so much.

Now, with Andrew gone and a new outside-half about to succeed, there are no more excuses.

That said, it will be a heavy responsibility on whichever of David Pears or Mike Catt wins the manager's favour and there is no certainty that either is yet capable of giving England's outside backs the service, space and vision Andrew could not.

Rowell's remarks yesterday - which also included a kindly reference to Northampton's Paul Grayson, another outside-half to attend England training on Tuesday - indicate Pears to be his front-runner. "He looks as if he could be the heir-apparent," Rowell said.

Until last Saturday Pears was the stand-off in form, kicking his goals and adroitly dictating Harlequins' three-quarter play. It had worked well during the five-match winning run with which Quins started their First Division campaign and the very fact that this injury-prone player was week by week emerging unscathed was another credential.

But then Pears' progress came to a juddering halt, along with Quins' at Sale. This was a first example of a match when things went badly at forward and, not only could Pears do nothing to alleviate the unfamiliar pressure, he compared unfavourably as creator and tactician with his venerable opposite number, Paul Turner.

While this was happening, Mike Catt was producing a devastating performance as Bath were laying waste to Bristol, the first time in a season and a bit that he had given much indication playing for his club that he could become an international outside-half as opposed to full-back.

Conveniently for Rowell, the two go head to head at The Stoop this afternoon. If Catt were selected, an additional change would be required to fill in for him as full-back and for Andrew as place-kicker. Enter Jonathan Callard, also of Bath, playing the best rugby of his career - far better than when he was first capped two years ago.

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