Durban trial for Cup places

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The Independent Online
As England have already settled on 21 of their World Cup squad of 26 - 20 of those at Twickenham today plus the injured Graham Dawe - the unbeaten A team's match against Natal in Durban effectively amounts to a final trial for the remaining five places.

This is most acutely obvious in the back row, where the respective performances - on the very ground where England will play all their pool matches in the summer - of John Hall and Neil Back will be of intense interest to Jack Rowell as he scrutinises his senior team back home against Scotland.

The manager's unsolved dilemma, which will remain insoluble until England get to South Africa, is whether he needs a genuine open side as insurance to accompany the behemoths who otherwise populate England's back row lest their lack of speed is exposed on the harder grounds.

Hence the importance of this match for the swift but comparatively small Back. On the other hand, if Back fails to convince at King's Park today, then Hall - the A team captain since Steve Bates withdrew with a knee injury - will provide more of the same as Rodber, Richards, Clarke and Ojomoh.

Hall and Back apart, Hull, Hopley and the newly-restored Ian Hunter head the A list of candidates and if they prove themselves against Natal they will have proved themselves worthy of World Cup inclusion. For one thing, the full England side slipped on the Banana Boys last year; for another, even without the injured South Africa full-back Andr Joubert today's Natal team contains no fewer than seven Springbok internationals.

These include James Small, making his return to representative rugby after being excluded from the South African tour party to Wales and Scotland in the autumn after an incident in a Port Elizabeth night-club.

After beating Ireland, France and Italy, if England win again today it will complete the third grand slam at this level in four seasons, a sequence begun when Rowell himself was the A coach.

Natal: H Reece-Edwards; J Small, P Mller, D Muir, C van der Westhuizen; H Honiball, K Putt; R Kempson, J Allan, A Garvey, M Andrews, S Atherton, W Bartmann (capt), G Teichmann, D Kriese.

ENGLAND A: P Hull (Bristol); I Hunter (Northampton), D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), J Sleightholme (Bath); P Grayson, M Dawson (Northampton); R Hardwick (Coventry), M Regan (Bristol), D Garforth (Leicester), G Archer (Newcastle Gosforth), R West (Gloucester), J Hall (Bath, capt), A Diprose (Saracens), N Back (Leicester).