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There can be no excuses - Woodward
February 2, 2000

Clive Woodward tonight made a promise of "no excuses" as England's elite players prepared for battle in the Lloyds TSB Six Nations following a punishing domestic build-up.

Woodward, whose side tackle Ireland in next Saturday's Championship opener, has named uncapped backs Mike Tindall and Ben Cohen and was a powerless onlooker during last week's exhaustive round of Premiership and Tetley's Bitter Cup action.

But the England coach has refused to enter the debate currently raging about fatigued personnel, emphasised when shattered flanker Neil Back lasted just 35 minutes of Leicester's Cup tie at London Irish just 72 hours ago.

Team meetings, rather than training sessions, were on England's schedule today, with Woodward admitting that three games in eight days was hardly helpful towards launching an international campaign.

But he will not use the situation as a get-out-of-jail card if Ireland lead England a merry dance at Twickenham, despite high-profile figures like Dick Best, Rob Andrew and his own star forward Lawrence Dallaglio voicing grave concerns.

"I cannot control the fixtures," Woodward said. "It is not ideal preparation, but the thing now is to manage the situation.

"Quite a few of the lads didn't play last weekend, and with a week's break between matches, I've got no doubt that England will arrive as fresh as we can be and with no excuses."

England will start training tomorrow morning at Sandhurst Military College, when Bath centre Tindall and Northampton wing Ben Cohen can take their places in a new-look three-quarter line.

The 21-year-olds are both rewarded for outstanding Premiership form this season, while another gifted prospect Bath utility back Iain Balshaw is among Woodward's seven substitutes.

Yorkshireman Tindall has the unenviable task of replacing midfield superstar and Bath colleague Jeremy Guscott, recently retired from the Test scene after a memorable 65-cap odyssey, with Cohen taking over from England's injured World Cup top try-scorer Dan Luger.

Both promotions were signposted long in advance, but Balshaw almost joined them, pressing claims as a viable alternative to right wing Austin Healey.

Elsewhere, the versatile Mike Catt will complete an all-Bath midfield, winning a 40th cap in his fourth different England position, with Garath Archer and Simon Shaw forging a colossal second-row unit.

Archer, 6ft 6in, and 6ft 9in Shaw combined weight of almost 38 stone pack down in an enforced move by Woodward as World Cup locks Martin Johnson and Danny Grewcock are both sidelined through injury.

"I've picked players who are on form for their clubs," Woodward added.

"Tindall and Cohen are the two form players in their positions, and they deserve this chance. Both guys are there on merit.

"Balshaw came very close to a starting osition, he is an exciting young player, but what probably went against im is that we already had two other uncapped players among the backs."

There are eight starting line-up urvivors from England's last match the demoralising World Cup quarter-final efeat by South Africa last October a contingent that includes 77 times capped prop Jason Leonard, who will start his 10th Championship.

Woodward felt that neither centre Will Greenwood who lines up in Friday night's A international between England
and Ireland nor lock Tim Rodber were match-sharp enough, while Healey needed
much more fly-half experience, his current club position, before he could
challenge England pivot Jonny Wilkinson.

As for Catt, who has had more comebacks
than Frank Sinatra during a six-year Test career, Woodward added: "He's in
form and there on merit.

"He's way above Greenwood in terms of
form and fitness at the moment, and Phil de Glanville has been injured, so
we are very lucky to have someone of Catt's experience alongside Tindall."

Scrum-half Matt Dawson will captain his
country for the first time on home soil, having proved an admirable leader
during England's ill-conceived 1998 southern hemisphere tour, and is
relishing Saturday's clash.

"It cannot come quick enough as far as
I am concerned," he said.

"I want to win some games as captain of
England, and we are a completely different team from 1998 we're a couple
of steps beyond that.

"With Keith Wood captaining Ireland, we
must expect the unexpected. Like ours, Ireland's last World Cup performance
was not up to scratch, but England never underestimate any team,
especially the Irish."

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