Argentinian consolation for the Lions discards

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Rugby Union

Rather like Barry John in his elusive heyday, England's finest will be travelling in two directions simultaneously this summer. Full-scale international commitments in South Africa and Argentina are certain to stretch England's enviable strength in depth to breaking point and give Jack Rowell some idea of the precise balance between quality and quantity.

If anything, England's two-Test visit to Argentina will be even less of a tea party than the Lions' tour of South Africa. Perhaps it was just as well that, in stark contrast to the Lions' squad announcement a fortnight ago, there was no sign of the Mad Hatter theory of selection when Rowell named his squad at Twickenham yesterday.

At least four of those bound for South America - Adedayo Adebayo, Mike Catt, Kyran Bracken and Phil Greening - should have been booked on the first flight to Johannesburg rather than Buenos Aires and it is none too testing an exercise to find additional names for British rugby's misplaced persons file. Ben Clarke and Darren Garforth spring immediately to mind.

That, though, is a problem for the Lions, not England. Rowell's 29-strong party looks well capable of emulating their predecessors of 1990, who also travelled with 14 uncapped players, by claiming a share of the series.

Extreme pace out wide is at a premium - what's new? - but Adebayo, Jon Sleightholme and the surprise package from Sale, David Rees, are instinctive finishers. Given the running potential of Jim Mallinder and Mark Mapletoft from full-back, the degree of Test know-how at half-back and the serious clout in evidence up front, they can expect their fair share of scoring opportunities.

The sudden promotion of Rees, a 22-year-old Londoner who packs a motorway's worth of grit into an almost laughably miniscule 5ft 9in frame, underlines Sale's emergence as a genuine power in the land. The Pilkington Cup finalists supply a bright and bouncy quartet and should have contributed a fifth in Dave Baldwin, criminally unfortunate to be denied one of the four second row places.

The schedule includes demanding warm-up games with Cordoba, Buenos Aires and Argentina A, topped off with an "interesting" midweek examination from Cuyo in Mendoza between the Tests. "It's a big challenge," admitted the coach . "The Argentinians are very strong - scrummaging is a way of life for them - and while I think we'll have a useful pack, the question will be whether the front row can stand the pressure."

In fact, Rowell holds a stronger hand in that department than he acknowledged yesterday. If their performance for Bath against Leicester last weekend was anything to go by, Kevin Yates and John Mallett are well-equipped to ride roughshod across he length and breadth of the pampas. Garforth, the Tigers' tight-head, is no slouch either and thanks to the rapid development shown by Richard Cockerill, there will be a meaningful contest at hooker, too.

There are no sleepless nights to be endured on account of the locks, either. Martin Bayfield's recovery from a career-threatening pelvic injury should guarantee line-out possession, and with Martin Haag back in his pomp at Bath, the engine room just might have a touch of the Ford Cosworths about it.

The weak link appears to be at open-side flanker, owing to the fact that this squad does not possess one. "We were looking forward to having Neil Back along on tour but he was abducted by the Lions," said Rowell with a smile. He will be laughing on the other side of his face if breakaways like Rolando Martin abduct all the loose ball when the chips are down in Buenos Aires.

Scotland, meanwhile, dropped a kilt-full of bombshells when they named a 30-strong party for the summer trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Andy Nicol, the Bath scrum-half, takes over the captaincy from the Lions-bound Rob Wainwright and the resulting squeeze on the No 9 shirt means there is no place for Bryan Redpath, a Five Nations first choice.

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