- 17 Oct 07, 05:26 PM
Paris – Luckily, I hadn’t finished my "England call on Hipkiss" feature for today.
The fact that I had even started thinking about writing it shows that for the umpteenth time over the last few weeks, I have been pretty presumptuous about this England team.
It was widely assumed that Dan Hipkiss, the strong-running Leicester outside centre, would be named in the side for Saturday’s World Cup final against South Africa following the cruel injury to wing Josh Lewsey.
The 25-year-old had impressed after coming on as Lewsey’s replacement in the semi-final against France, with first-choice number 13 Mathew Tait looking comfortable despite being moved out wide.
The selection of Hipkiss was a formality, wasn't it?
Erm....no. And it seems experience was the key.
Hipkiss made his England debut this summer and his appearance off the bench just before half-time last Saturday was only his fifth cap. Maybe giving Hipkiss his first World Cup start in the biggest game of all was just too much of a gamble.
Head coach Brian Ashton may have also been loath to tinker with a midfield that has served him well in the games against Australia and France.
With Hipkiss passed over, it is Sale's Mark Cueto that comes into a team trying to become the first side in history to retain the World Cup.
He has a fine try-scoring record at international level with 13 tries from 23 games and Ashton obviously believes that he can handle the aerial bombardment that is sure to come his way at the Stade de France.
“The experience of someone who has played a lot of international rugby in that position is quite important,” said Ashton.
The 27-year-old’s selection is a massive boost for a player who has suffered a torrid 12 months with injury.
Injuries to his calf, abductor and ankle severely wrecked his campaign and last season he only made 13 appearances for his club.
Cueto also missed England’s summer tour to South Africa and all but one of this year’s Six Nations matches. To sum up his luck, he was set to play in the warm-up match against Wales in August but pulled his groin in the warm-up.
With this many injuries it is hardly surprising that he has been unable to hit top form so far this year, although you could say being asked to play out of position at full-back has not helped his cause.
After unconvincingly wearing the number 15 shirt in the Six Nations game against Wales, against France in the summer warm-up Test in Marseille and in the World Cup opener against the USA, Cueto was moved to his natural wing position for the wins over Samoa and Tonga.
Cueto suffered a hamstring strain in that final pool match with Tonga and although he has not made the match-day 22 since, he believes he is ready for the big day ahead.
“For the past two weeks I've been training and keeping myself in good shape and trying to keep my mind focused, waiting for an opportunity to come around,” he said.
And it seemed quite ironic that at England’s team announcement, Hipkiss came into the room to be interviewed just a matter of feet away from the throng of journalists gathered around Cueto.
To Hipkiss’ credit, the Leicester man put on a brave face and was keen to stress how he was determined to help the team this weekend.
"I have put it to one side. It's all about the team putting in a performance on Saturday," he said. "Mark is a great player and I have no doubt that he will do a great job."
It sort of sums up the team unity this squad has developed over the last few weeks.
As for the press conference itself, it seemed that the world’s media had descended on England’s team hotel to hear Ashton announce his starting XV – you would think there was a World Cup final coming up.
With a certain Jonny Wilkinson on the top table it was always going to be thus and two banks of television crews and a host of photographers were trained on the Newcastle fly-half as he took to his seat.
After the main event, a host of players came into the media room and were in good humour as they conducted their interviews - a jovial Matt Stevens was seen pulling down Lewis Moody's trousers as he was speaking to a group of journalists.
And for Cueto in particular, it was certainly a day to be smiling.
Mark Orlovac is a BBC Sport journalist based in London. He will be based in Paris for the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup.