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Will Ashton have the last laugh?

Carl Hicks Carl Hicks | 12:58 UK time, Friday, 17 August 2007

Three weeks to the World Cup and the waiting is over for players, with the final squads announced by coaches earlier this week.

The choices of England boss Brian Ashton have made the most headlines. Four years ago Clive Woodward's squad in Australia were quickly tagged "Dad's Army" because of their age - and took great delight in ramming the name back down the throats of local scribes as they went on to lift the Webb Ellis trophy for the first time.

Ashton's squad, announced on Monday, actually has a higher average age than four years ago. Chris Rattue, of the New Zealand Herald, has been quick on the uptake here saying that if four years ago it was “Dad's Army”, England will be sending the cast of "Last of the Summer Wine" to France next month.

Genius. Presumably Mike Catt, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mark Regan, the trio of 35-year olds, are cast as Compo, Clegg and Foggy. The squad has eleven over 30s with another eight 28 and 29 year olds. Only Tom Rees, Matthew Tait and Matt Stevens are under 25.

It is true that Ashton has put pragmatism before the spirit of youth. "The Young Ones", such as Toby Flood and Shane Gerahty, have been passed over while "Likely Lads" such as Nick Abendanon, James Haskell and Danny Cipriani have also been left behind. Instead Ashton has decided that England's best hopes lie with the savage implementation of a tight game played by a monstrous pack backed up by the boot of Jonny Youknowwho with Catt to support him. Sounds familiar?

To be fair, England's failure to move on from 2003 is reflected in one statistic: defeat in Marseilles this weekend against France would be their 16th in the last 17 games they've played away from Twickenham.

French fly-half Frederic Michalak in training ahead of this weekend's match with England

Ashton says the time for experimenting has stopped and victory on Saturday would be a huge boost ahead of bigger battles on French soil in the next few weeks. There are highlights of France v England on Sunday (BBC TWO, 1700).

Our live game on Saturday (BBC ONE, 1410) sees Wales take on Argentina. This should be an intriguing contest with the Welsh keen to put behind them their drubbing at the hands of the "Last of the Summer Wine" boys two weeks ago and now up against a side they have lost to four times in their last five meetings.

Before he takes up the coaching job at Leicester, Argentina's coach Marcello Loffreda is determined to see his side produce a big show at the World Cup. They are in Group D with hosts France and Ireland who they beat twice in the summer. Indeed in their last 10 matches against European opposition Argentina's only defeat came narrowly 27-26 in France last year.

The South Americans will provide another formidable test for a Welsh pack that, like Australia, need to show they can match up with the best to give their creative players the chance to shine on the world stage.

It should be another illuminating weekend. Who's going to win the World Cup? Well, at the moment as our man on The Herald would know "Only Fools and Horses" are betting against the All Blacks.

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