Confident Wallabies hold back Horan

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No wonder Australia are favourites for the World Cup. They have won all their matches during the past year without the world's greatest centre - since Tim Horan's knee was shattered - and last night were so confident about the opening match against South Africa in Cape Town on Thursday that, although Horan is back in superb condition, he was still left out.

It helps when you have an alternative as good as the 21-year-old Daniel Herbert but Horan, himself just 25, has looked marvellous during training and will now definitely be set upon the Canadians in Port Elizabeth next Tuesday. Then, as long as his reconstructed knee takes the strain, the renewed centre partnership of Horan and Jason Little will probably see the Wallabies through the World Cup.

"If we get selection right first time against South Africa, it will be a miracle," Bob Dwyer, Australia's coach, said. Which means it will not be until the pools finish, and he has had the chance to fulfil his stated intention of giving each member of his squad at least one game, that his mind will be made up.

The only change from the Australian team who started against Argentina three weeks ago is Willie Ofahengaue's restoration on the flank for Troy Coker and even with Horan, Coker and Tony Daly missing this match, there will still be eight of the 1991 World Cup winners on the field at Newlands.

The Springboks followed the Wallabies last night with four changes from the side which overwhelmed Western Samoa last month. In particular Andre Joubert, the outstanding player of South Africa's autumn tour of Wales and Scotland, is fit to resume at full-back and the captain, Francois Pienaar, plays in the back row despite persistent hamstring trouble.

The great prize for Thursday's winners will be to avoid England in the quarter-finals, assuming Will Carling's team turn awesome training form into the anticipated dispatch of Argentina, Italy and Western Samoa.

Yesterday the squad worked off the frustration of their enforced day- trip to Cape Town for Saturday's welcome lunch with as precise and efficient a session as they have put together since the the start of the last domestic season.

This was made more impressive by the intensity of the morning heat at King's Park, where England have trained since they arrived in Durban. This was followed by an afternoon downpour that fell on them while they were conducting one of their off-field commercial opportunities, a barbecue, at a seaside resort 10 miles to the north of the city.

Dean Richards had been able to scrummage even though his hamstring injury - the first, he says, of his career - kept him out of most of the rest of the session and, conveniently, Saturday's visit to Cape Town. The No 8 anticipates full fitness by tomorrow, just in time for selection for England's match against Argentina on Saturday.

As the Argentines, Italians and Samoans all agree they are battling for second place in Group B, it is being suggested here that England's pool opposition may take it easy against them in order to preserve themselves for each other. If only it were so, Jack Rowell, the England manager, would be perfectly happy. "If you can organise that, I would appreciate it," he said.

Scotland's injury problems persist. Prop Dave Hilton has an ankle injury and is almost certainly out of their opening Group D game against the Ivory Coast at Rustenburg on Friday, and wing Kenny Logan faces a few days of intensive treatment on a hamstring strain to prove his fitness for the game.

Canada have opted for experience and mobility in naming their team for their first outing in Group A against Romania in Port Elizabeth. The match will bring a record 32nd cap for stand-off and captain, Gareth Rees.

The side shows four changes to the team beaten 73-7 by New Zealand in Auckland last month. Right wing Winston Stanley and flanker Ian Gordon return to the side after injury, and centre Christian Stewart, who was on the tour but missed the Test against the All Blacks, also returns.

SOUTH AFRICA (v Australia, Cape Town, Thursday): A Joubert; J Small (Natal), J Mulder, H le Roux, P Hendriks (Transvaal); J Stransky (Western Province), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); P du Randt (Orange Free State), J Dalton, B Swart (Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), J Strydom (Transvaal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), R Straeuli, F Pienaar (Transvaal, capt). Replacements: G Johnson (Transvaal), B Venter (Orange Free State), J Roux (Transvaal), G Pagel (Western Province), C Rossouw (Transvaal), K Otto (Northern Transvaal).

AUSTRALIA: M Pini; D Campese (New South Wales), D Herbert, J Little (Queensland), D Smith; M Lynagh (Queensland, capt), G Gregan (Australian Capital Territory); D Crowley (Queensland), P Kearns, E McKenzie (NSW), R McCall, J Eales (Queensland), W Ofahengaue, T Gavin (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacements: M Burke, S Bowen (NSW), P Slattery (Queensland), M Hartill (NSW), M Foley, T Coker (Queensland).

CANADA (v Romania, Port Elizabeth, Friday): S Stewart (UBC Old Boys), W Stanley (UBC), C Stewart (W Province, SA), S Gray (Kats), D Lougheed (Toronto Welsh); G Rees (Newport, capt), J Graf; E Evans (UBCOB), M Cardinal (James Bay), R Snow (Dogs), G Ennis (Kats), M James (Burnaby Lake), A Charron (Ottawa Irish), C McKenzie (UBCOB), I Gordon (James Bay).