England captain's Lions fury

Fran Cotton must be wondering whether it might be easier to dust off his boots and take on the Springboks himself. When he agreed to manage the Lions in South Africa this summer, the former England prop was relishing the prospect of a scrap or two along the way - he was never one to shirk a fight, after all - but he probably considered himself safe from the flak until his arrival in Johannesburg.

Wrong. Six days after receiving an earful from Will Carling on the subject of the Lions tour - the eminent Harlequin's anger at being accused by the manager of using the captaincy as a bargaining tool oscillated between wrath and rage - Cotton yesterday ran into another fusillade from Phil de Glanville, Carling's fellow England centre and successor as national skipper.

De Glanville, left out of Cotton's preliminary squad of 62, fired his bullets in the hallowed surrounding of the Cambridge Union, no less. "It is no great secret that I do not get on with Fran Cotton," he told a group of students attending the latest in a series of addresses by leading British sportsmen. "When I was one of the England players' representatives during difficult early negotiations with the Rugby Football Union this season, I had some interesting discussions with him and, when he was subsequently appointed Lions manager, I thought it unlikely that I would be going to South Africa. International selection is a personal thing."

Given that De Glanville had already signalled his displeasure at the entire concept of a preliminary squad, the purpose of which has never been entirely clear, it can be assumed that he has now slammed the Lions door firmly in his own face. Cotton, who was attending meetings in London yesterday and was unavailable for comment, would probably pick himself at centre before either of the England first-choices.

Much to the muted disappointment of those who saw Jeremy Guscott confirm his status as a world-class performer in the final three minutes of the victory over Ireland in Dublin last weekend, De Glanville and Carling will still be first choices when England take on France in a climactic Five Nations shoot-out at Twickenham on Saturday week. Guscott returns to the bench, as does Austin Healey, the Leicester scrum-half who also caught the eye at Lansdowne Road.

Jack Rowell's decision to name an unchanged team was hardly earth-shattering. Indeed, Guscott's brilliance in setting up two late tries for Tony Underwood might even have confirmed the England coach in a belief that his old Bath protege is perfect bench material - a stiletto-sharp runner, tailor-made to take advantage of tiring defences and widening gaps towards the end of a match. In which case, the outlook looks even more depressing for Guscott than a week ago, for he is enough of a traditionalist to believe that rugby is about 15 players, not 21.

In defence of making consistency his chief virtue, Rowell will point to England's 1995 Grand Slam campaign, when the same 15 served in all four matches. It was a similar story in 1991, when England also went through the Five Nations unbeaten. In the other Grand Slam year of the decade, 1992, they made only one change, bringing in Dean Richards for Tim Rodber for the second half of the championship.

There are, however, changes to the A side for the second-string international with France tomorrow week. The Bath prop, Kevin Yates, and the Gloucester lock, Dave Sims, are restored to the tight five while Chris Sheasby of Wasps returns to the back row. They replace Rob Hardwick, John Fowler and Martin Corry respectively.

Richard Cockerill of Leicester replaces his club-mate, Dorian West, at hooker after filling in for Phil Greening on the senior bench in Dublin. At half-back, Kyran Bracken and Alex King return from injury for the Gloucester pairing of Scott Benton and Mark Mapletoft.

Several Welsh rugby clubs are considering taking the Welsh Rugby Union to court if the top division of the National League is reduced from 12 to eight teams next season.

Several clubs in the relegation zone as well as Division Two's leading teams are up in arms. Llandovery are to seek compensation of at least pounds 25,000 if they cannot be promoted, Aberavon have threatened a writ and Treorchy are ready to take out an injunction.

The luckless Scott Hastings, dropped from the full Scotland side and A team, has had to drop out of the squad for the World Cup Sevens after injuring his knee in practice.

Ian Smith, the Scottish international flanker, has severed ties with Gloucester, his home-town club, and agreed terms with Second Division Moseley yesterday.

ENGLAND (v France, Five Nations' Championship, Twickenham, 1 March): T Stimpson (Newcastle); J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), T Underwood (Newcastle); P Grayson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Bristol), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens). Replacements: J Guscott (Bath), M Catt (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), P Greening (Gloucester), B Clarke (Richmond).

FRANCE SQUAD: Backs: G Accoceberry (Begles-Bordeaux), D Aucagne (Pau), P Carbonneau (Brive), S Glas (Bourgoin-Jallieu), C Lamaison (Brive), L Leflamand (Bourgoin), A Penaud (Brive), J-L Sadourny (Colomiers), D Venditti (Brive), U Mola (Dax). Forwards: A Benazzi (Agen), C Califano (Toulouse), R Castel (Beziers), M Dal Maso (Agen), M de Rougemont (Toulon), J-L Jordana (Toulouse), O Magne (Dax), O Merle (Montferrand), H Miorin (Toulouse), F Pelous (Dax), F Tournaire (Narbonne).

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