Fringe players' chance to shine

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The Independent Online

Having dispensed with their Emerging Players XV, the England selectors have focused all their developmental work on their A side, and in some respects the team who play Western Samoa at Gateshead International Stadium tonight are reminiscent less of the England A sides of old than those who were then trying to emerge.

As it happens, it has worked out neatly, with the Samoans fielding not a single one of the players chosen for last month's Test against Scotland. On this occasion, the only full international will be Richard West, the Gloucester lock who won his cap - against Western Samoa - in the World Cup. As for the uncapped remainder, England A are brimful with genuine England contenders, and that has not always been the case.

The particular fascination of tonight's encounter, which is more or less meaningless for the islanders with the England match four days away, is to see whether Alex King, the 20-year-old student stand-off who has eschewed league rugby, can make a second step after successfully completing the first, from university to division.

Not that the choice has otherwise been universally welcomed. How could it be when the North have just won the Divisional Championship as well as beating the Samoans and yet have only two players from northern clubs, Tim Stimpson and James Naylor, in the side?

There are other A-team northerners - Sleightholme, Archer and Corry - who have gone south to make their rugby fortune and that merely adds to the sense of frustration in the one part of the country where representative rugby has a genuine regional identity.

ENGLAND A: T Stimpson (West Hartlepool); J Sleightholme (Bath), A Blyth (West Hartlepool), W Greenwood (Harlequins), J Naylor (Orrell); A King (Bristol Univ), A Gomarsall (Wasps); K Yates (Bath), P Greening (Gloucester), D Garforth (Leicester), G Archer (Bristol), R West (Gloucester), M Corry (Bristol), A Diprose (Saracens, capt), R Hill (Saracens).

WESTERN SAMOA: A Autagavaia (Suburbs); T Fa'aiuaso (Police), S Laega (Suburbs), K Tuigamala (Scopa), F Fereti (Apia); C Burnes (University), M Vaea (Marist); B Reidy (Marist St Patrick's), O Matauiau (Moata'a), G Latu (Vaimoso), S Lemamea (Scopa), M Birtwistle (Suburbs, capt), L Ta'ala (Police), S Smith (Helensville), M Iupeli (Marist).

n Keith Barwell is the new owner of Second Division leaders Northampton. The 51-year-old businessman received the almost unanimous backing of members at an EGM to buy the club for pounds 1m. The decision, by 661 votes to one, means Saints will now become fully professional.