BRISBANE // England coach Tony Smith appeared to throw up a smokescreen ahead of Saturday's World Cup semi-final against New Zealand by naming an initial squad that excluded Ade Gardner and Danny McGuire. The St Helens winger Gardner and the Leeds stand-off McGuire were both expected to return for the clash at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium after being rested for last Saturday's final pool match against the Kiwis. But they were conspicuous by their absence when England met the World Cup obligations by naming a 19-man squad yesterday.
Apart from Gardner and McGuire, the players left out of the official squad were St Helens prop Maurie Fa'asavalu, who has a broken hand, and Bradford duo Paul Sykes and Paul Langley. England are thought to have lingering injury doubts over full-back Paul Wellens and stand-off Leon Pryce, which could significantly affect Smith's plans. If Wellens fails to recover from ankle ligament damage, Lee Smith would switch from wing to full-back and Gardner would take on the job of marking Manu Vatuvei, the four-try hero of the Kiwis' 36-24 win over England last Saturday. If Pryce is still troubled by a rib injury, McGuire would be his natural replacement.
England have lost their bid to have a northern hemisphere referee in charge of Saturday's match, with Australian Shayne Hayne, who refereed England's opening pool match against Papua New Guinea, given the job. It means England will have had Australian referees in charge of all four of their matches in the tournament so far, with Tony Archer controlling their games against Australia and New Zealand.
A plea by Smith to World Cup referees' chief Mick Stone to have either Steve Ganson or Australia-born Ashley Klein, the Rugby Football League's two officials on the panel, fell on deaf ears. "In the tournament manual drawn up prior to the tournament, it was agreed that appointments would be made on merit and, where merit permits, we would appoint on the basis of neutrality," said Stone. Klein will be in charge of the second semi-final on Sunday between Australia and Fiji.
Meanwhile, the winger David Williams, who scored a hat-trick of tries on debut in Australia's 46-6 win over Papua New Guinea on Sunday, has been left out of the Kangaroos team for their clash with Fiji. The Manly player makes way for the return of Brent Tate as coach Ricky Stuart reverts largely to the side that beat England 52-4 in their pool match in Melbourne. The only change is on the bench, where veteran second rower Craig Fitzgibbon gets the vote ahead of Josh Perry.