Luger on target for a remarkable return
June 15, 2000
Dan Luger was tonight celebrating a remarkable Test match recall as the ``brilliant feeling'' of reclaiming his England place began to sink in.
Saracens wing Luger, England's most potent attacking weapon during last year's World Cup, has ousted Six Nations star Ben Cohen from the starting line-up against South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday.
Despite playing less than five hours' competitive rugby since the Springboks wrecked England's bid for global supremacy last October, Luger has done enough to show Clive Woodward he is ready and fit following a serious groin injury.
Luger, who has scored 11 tries during a 15-cap England career, is one of five changes from the side whose Grand Slam hopes were sunk by Scotland at Murrayfield two months ago.
World Cup locks Martin Johnson and Danny Grewcock, who both missed the entire Six Nations campaign through injury, are re-united with Grewcock's return meaning no place for Simon Shaw.
Scrum-half Kyran Bracken, like Luger a long-term injury victim, replaces absent Six Nations skipper Matt Dawson, and 27-year-old Saracens tighthead prop Julian White makes his England debut.
Devonian White, a robust and rugged scrummager, edges out the more experienced Darren Garforth in what England manager Woodward termed ``a very tight call''.
Luger, in cold storage for seven months following the World Cup exit against South Africa, has started just three games since that Paris catastrophe.
Two of those were for the Barbarians, while he also featured prominently in last night's opening tour victory over North West Districts in Potchefstroom.
His two-try performance oozed class, suggesting that Northampton wing Cohen would struggle to keep Luger out, despite claiming five Six Nations touchdowns in as many appearances and helping Saints win the Heineken Cup.
``Ben hasn't done anything wrong, I just feel that Dan offers us something more, and he gets in on merit,'' Woodward said.
``Dan is now completely fine. I am satisfied that he's fit to play in a Test match.
``I have always picked him when he has been fully fit, and he has always scored tries for us , he adds something to the back-line.''
Cohen is likely to feature among the England replacements , Woodward will finalise his substitutes tomorrow _,and Luger's return sets up a mouth-watering confrontation opposite Springboks try machine Breyton Paulse.
``Ben was out there doing the job during the Six Nations,'' Luger said.
``When you watch Ben and the guys playing well like that, then it is going to make your job more difficult getting back in the side.
``But it fired me on, created more of a challenge and made me want to get back desperately.
``This is a brilliant feeling, and I just want to get out there and play on Saturday.''
While Luger concentrates on re-establishing himself among the great finishers in world rugby, White will seek to justify the confidence placed in him by Woodward and new head coach Andy Robinson.
Formerly with Plymouth Albion and Bridgend, White learnt his front-row trade during a spell with New Zealand side Hawkes Bay.
But since joining Saracens last year, consistently impressive club form has seen him rise rapidly through the ranks as a serious alternative to England's injured Six Nations tighthead Phil Vickery.
``Saracens have really helped my development. When you look at the facilities they've got there, and the quality of players you are training with, then you cannot fail to improve your game,'' he said.
Woodward added: ``White is an outstanding scrummager, it's a big chance for him.''
Despite changing one third of the team on duty in Edinburgh, Woodward is happy with the combination he will send out at Loftus Versfeld, a venue where England triumphed spectacularly against South Africa six years ago.
``We've had to make some tough calls, but they have all been done on merit,'' he said.
``It is a very exciting team, and we want to make sure that we carry on with the way England have been playing and developing.
``We need a team that can adapt to anything the Springboks might do, and I believe that this is a mouth-watering match being played at a great rugby stadium.''
Like Woodward, Springboks coach Nick Mallett also unveiled his Test side today , an unchanged combination after last weekend's comfortable victory over Canada in East London.
But Mallett could yet be forced to make a switch, as an injury to current tighthead prop Cobus Visagie has put Willie Meyer on stand-by.
The South African side includes 10 players from Western Province, while former Test captain Joost van der Westhuizen wins his 60th cap, moving further along the comeback trail from a serious injury.
``We will be looking to improve our discipline after the Canada game. We gave away too many penalties,'' Mallett said.
England continue their preparations tomorrow, but they lost a second fringe player tonight due to injury.
Leeds scrum-half Scott Benton has followed Gloucester prop Trevor Woodman on an early flight home, having not recovered from a calf strain.
Nick Walshe, Saracens' scrum-half understudy to Bracken, has already arrived in Johannesburg as the unlucky Benton's replacement.