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Rugby World Cup 2003: SLAP OF HONOUR; Dallaglio shrugs off claims of thuggery but is pained by Woodward's warning.

Byline: Alex SPINK

IT IS supposed to be a walk in the park, little more than a distraction from the serious business of winning the Rugby World Cup.

But for Lawrence Dallaglio tomorrow's game against Samoa has turned into a trial. His reputation as one of the world's finest players is at stake.

On the one hand he has failed to find anything like his true form in England's opening Pool C games against Georgia and South Africa and has been warned by Woodward that his shirt is in jeopardy.

On the other, he has found himself under attack from assorted sources over the "slap" - his word - on Thinus Delport last Saturday which drew blood and left the Springbok wing needing stitches in his face.

Delport was stood down from last night's match against Georgia, supposedly to let the cut heal, and while England have dismissed the incident as a piece of nothing, others have not.

Woodward claimed to have not spotted the punch at the time or during a subsequent viewing of the video, but the Boks were incensed that no action was taken against the England No.8.

Their case was yesterday taken up by one of Australia's leading rugby columnists. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Spiro Zavos noted: "It defied logic how he avoided being given a yellow card and a suspension for two matches."

The writer branded England's former captain as "a known enforcer for his teams" with a "poor record for foul play".

He added: "Part of England's success in recent years has been the willingness of its enforcers, notably Dallaglio and Martin Johnson, to indulge in thuggish play against teams not willing to be intimidated by England's John Bull aggressiveness.

"In my opinion, the citing commissioner has virtually condoned this strain of thuggishness in England's play."

Dallaglio is unlikely to worry unduly about the invective swirling around in the local media, not least because his team mates feel he was justified to react to Delport apparently sticking fingers in his eyes.

But he will have sat up and taken notice of the warning from Woodward that either he produces his best form against the unbeaten leaders of Pool C or he is more than likely to find himself out of the team.

Wasps clubmate Joe Worsley is the man with most to gain from any changing of the guard and Woodward made an effort to talk him up yesterday when he billed this game as a "huge opportunity" for the piano-playing 26-year-old.

"This is one of the few times that he has started for England and he is an outstanding player," said the coach, who has named Worsley in his starting line-up (at blindside flanker) for only the third time this year.

Two years ago, whilst Dallaglio was undergoing knee reconstruction, Worsley made the number eight shirt his own for six consecutive matches.

But then England lost in France, Worsley had a bad one, and he was jettisoned.

Nineteen months on he is an older and wiser player. The memory of Paris 2002 still sends a shiver up his spine but he is ready to go again, convinced he has something to offer.

"This is a real opportunity for me and I need a top, top game to put myself into consideration for the future," he said. "I'm excited about it. I've worked my body really hard and I want to see what I can do with it.

"It is frustrating backing up the world's most experienced back row because international rugby is very addictive and I want to play as much as possible. But this is my chance to get back in.

"I learned a hell of a lot from that game in France, not purely about rugby, more about preparation. I had played a club game the previous Sunday and my mental build-up for Paris wasn't quite right.

"If you're slightly off at this level, even half-a-second off mentally, you're just not in the game. If you're not being decisive and acting on impulse and you start thinking too much, you're out of the game."

Right now it is Dallaglio feeling the heat, but Worsley knows how quickly things can change and he is not about to start taking anything for granted.

"I am concentrating on this weekend and not a day beyond that," he insisted. "If I look at the bigger picture I'll end up ballsing it up and there won't be a future for me.

"My focus is on bringing everything I can to our defence, which I'll need to because these guys are phenomenal athletes, and an extra dimension to our attack. If I can do that the management will hopefully take the view that they need me."

England have played Samoa twice, winning 44-22 in the 1995 World Cup and 27-9 at Twickenham a few months later.

But the Pacific Islanders have warned England to expect to be knocked about by their ferocious tackling and have named a full-strength team for a match which the players refer to as the biggest of their lives.

A capacity crowd of 55,000 is expected at the Telstra Dome for the clash between the world's top ranked team and the surprise leaders of Pool C. And while England are heavy favourites, Samoan coach John Boe has served notice that there are some mighty collisions heading their way.

He stressed that he was not talking about illegal hits and said that he will ban any of his players who are shown yellow or red cards - as he did to wing Lome Fa'atau after he was sin-binned against Uruguay.

But he admitted: "Our guys hit so hard that the player actually bounces off before they've got the chance to grab.

"Referees have to understand that they are big hitters and that does happen on occasions.

"But we pride ourselves on good discipline. We are extremely strong on that."

"Off the field has never been a trouble. The boys are religious and never ever misbehave. In fact they're wonderful ambassadors for their country."

ENGLAND v SAMOA

J Robinson 15 T Vili

I Balshaw 14 L Fa'atau

S Abbott 13 T Fanolua

M Tindall 12 B Lima

B Cohen 11 S Tagicakibau

J Wilkinson 10 E Va'a

M Dawson 9 S So'oialo

J Leonard 1 K Lealamanua

M Regan 2 J Meredith

J White 3 J Tomuli

M Johnson (capt) 4 O Palepoi

B Kay 5 L Lafaiali'i

J Worsley 6 P Poulus

N Back 7 M Fa'asavalu

L Dallaglio 8 S Sititi (capt)

English Replacements: 16 S Thompson, 17 P Vickery, 18 M Corry, 19 L Moody, 20 A Gomarsall, 21 M Catt, 22 D Luger.

Samoan Replacements: 16 M Schwalger, 17 S Lemalu, 18 K Viliamu, 19 D Tuiavi'i, 20 D Tyrell, 21 D Rasmussen, 22 D Feaunati

WILL WILKO EVER MISS A KICK?

William Hill have opened a book on when Jonny Wilkinson will next miss a penalty kick/conversion for England - and are offering 5/2 that he will miss his next one, but 11/2 that he scores all of his next TEN. Hills offer 7/2 that Wilkinson will not miss until the next but one kick he takes; 4/1 that he misses out for the first time on his third kick; 6/1 4th; 8/1 5th; 10/1 6th; 12/1 7th; 14/1 8th; 20/1 9th; 25/1 10th.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 25, 2003
Words:1236
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