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Last updated: February 7, 2007 4:06 pm

England rue absence of Rooney

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Wayne Rooney and Aaron Lennon will both miss England's match against Spain on Wednesday, thereby depriving the friendly international of much of its point for the hosts, writes Jonathan Wilson. If the match at Old Trafford had a purpose, it was surely to try to resolve the question of Rooney's role.

Could a method be found, with present resources, to enable him to adopt his preferred position, playing off a front man, or could a system be determined in which he could operate as the lone spearhead without impinging too much on the verve that makes him England's only top-class forward?

As it is, the Manchester United player has been deemed unfit after sustaining a back injury against Tottenham on Sunday, and so Peter Crouch will perform with his usual endearing lankiness as the sole front man. With Lennon on one flank and Kieron Dyer on the other, that could have presented an interesting attacking trident – not dissimilar to the one that showed promise in the 1-1 draw with Holland in November – but Lennon has withdrawn from the squad with a stomach bug. That means a return for Shaun Wright-Phillips, a player so out of sorts that on the odd occasion he has played for Chelsea this season most observers have simply been hoping that he would perform without too much damage to his self-esteem.

Michael Carrick fills Owen Hargreaves' role of midfield anchor and guidance counsellor in trying to find a way for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to play together. With Hargreaves not quite fit after recovering from a broken leg, the central midfield is the only area that could have a significant bearing on manager Steve McClaren's thinking ahead of next month's 2008 European Championship qualifier away to Israel.

The one real surprise in McClaren's line-up comes in goal, where Ben Foster, impressive this season for Watford where he is on loan from Manchester United, is preferred to Paul Robinson and will make his first start for England. The manager insisted his decision was simply a question of giving experience to a player who has never played in European competition, but given Robinson's occasional flat-footedness and lack of dominance of his box, it would be remiss of McClaren not to be considering his alternatives.

Jonathan Woodgate makes his long-awaited return to the centre of defence in the absence of injured captain John Terry. Phil Neville has edged out Gareth Barry in the contest to fill in for Wayne Bridge as Ashley Cole's replacement at left-back, which just about sums up how second-rate this selection feels given the lack of leading players. England (4-5-1): Foster;G Neville, Ferdinand, Woodgate, P Neville; Wright-Phillips, Gerrard, Carrick, Lampard, Dyer; Crouch.

CRICKET England salvaged something from their tortured tour of Australia by reaching the finals of the Commonwealth Bank one-day tri-series. Victory over New Zealand by 14 runs in Brisbane sent them into a best-of-three final against Australia, with the first match in Melbourne on Friday.

Despite the drama of Tuesday's match and its encouraging outcome for England prior to next month's World Cup, it was a case of two underdogs scrapping to get the most crumbs in order to compete with Australia's feast. The game was a winner-takes-all affair, with both teams on nine points before play began. That compares with Australia's 31 points, not to mention seven wins from eight games against England's three and New Zealand's two.

The circumstances appeared to inspire Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss, two batsmen who have been desperately out of form since the 5-0 Ashes Tests disaster. Collingwood struck 106 and Strauss scored 55. This helped England to a respectable total of 270 in their 50 overs after winning the toss and batting first.

Michael Vaughan's men then did their best to throw away the advantage with some wild bowling at the start of New Zealand's reply. A dozen runs were given away wides in as many overs, with the first of the innings bowled by Liam Plunkett stretching to 11 deliveries.

But England regained their discipline in the field and some tight bowling, particularly from Andrew Flintoff and Monty Panesar, eventually squeezed the life out New Zealand's run chase despite a fine 106 from Stephen Fleming. Although New Zealand entered the final 20 overs requiring just 121 runs, the ratio rose to eight an over off the final 10 and 10½ an over from the final five.

Vaughan personally had a disappointing day, being bowled for a duck and aggravating the hamstring injury that had kept him out for five matches, thus making him doubtful for Friday's match. But he was determined to reap all the positives of England's unexpected slot in the final.

''I don't think you can gain anything from the way the Ashes went - we lost 5-0 and were beaten heavily by a better team, but this one-day series a week ago was looking pretty similar,'' he said. ''But we have fought and we have worked hard in practice and taken some confidence out of the practice sessions into the games. You beat a team like Australia in Sydney and it is bound to boost morale and confidence and that is exactly what it did."

RUGBY UNION Ireland are hopeful that captain Brian O'Driscoll will recover from a hamstring injury in time to play in Sunday's RBS 6 Nations home match against France. He sustained the strain during last weekend's 19-9 win over Wales, but a scan has shown the injury to be not as serious as first feared. O'Driscoll's centre partner, Gordon D'Arcy, and scrum-half Peter Stringer are also in contention after suffering, respectively, a groin strain and a hairline fracture of a hand bone.

France have made five changes to their team, in line with their rotation policy ahead of the autumn World Cup. Prop Sylvain Marconnet, lock Pascal Pape and flanker Imanol Harinordoquy replace Olivier Milloud, Jerome Thion and Julien Bonnaire. And in the backs, centre David Marty comes in for the injured Florian Fritz, while Vincent Clerc replaces winger Cedric Heymans.

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