Agar takes a gamble on filling scrum-half role

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The Independent Online

The Hull coach, Richard Agar, is ready to take one calculated risk but perhaps not two as he tries to defy the odds and win the Challenge Cup today.

Agar will not name his team until shortly before kick-off at Wembley, but he is preparing to take a chance on either Richard Horne or Adam Dykes for the problem scrum-half spot despite obvious fitness doubts over both of them. Horne has not played since April because of a career-threatening neck injury, while Dykes has had an injury-ravaged first season in England and has recently been out with a knee problem.

Agar insisted at Wembley yesterday that both were available for selection. "I'm going to take one risk, but not two," he said. Horne, the former Great Britain half-back, was at least looking and sounding like a man ready to play. "It's up to Richard now," he said. "I'm not 100 per cent, but there you go."

One decision that has been revealed is that Danny Houghton, a regular in the first team squad as the rotation hooker all season, will not play. The theory is that Shaun Berrigan is capable of playing most of the 80 minutes at dummy half and that others, like Tommy Lee and Danny Washbrook, can fill in there without the need for a specialist hooker on the bench.

"I'm trying to pick a team to win the game, not just to avoid losing it," Agar said. "People say I've the hardest job in the game this week, but I think it's the easiest, because there's no problem motivating this team."

One possible motivation Agar has not used is Saints' refusal to attend the traditional Wembley walkabout yesterday. "I am a traditionalist, but I don't think it's disrespectful," he said. "If we were to get here again next year, we might do the same."

One decision that has filtered out of the Saints' camp is that both Paul Sculthorpe and Chris Flannery will start in the back row with Lee Gilmour on the bench. From there, he will be asked to provide some of the impact Saints would normally get from Maurie Fa'asavalu, who is expected to be ruled out by his hamstring.

Despite that, Saints, on a run of 20 victories, are the overwhelming favourites.

It will take something very special from Hull – and at least one gamble to come off – for them to break their record of never winning at Wembley.

That would also make Agar and his dad, Allan, who coached Featherstone Rovers to a shock win over Hull in 1983, the first father and son combination to win a final. Agar Junior was in the changing rooms when Rovers overturned the odds 25 years ago. Allan will be there to savour the moment if history repeats itself today.

3 questions for Ade Gardner, St Helens winger

1. You are Super League's leading try-scorer this season. How much does that mean to you and what are the reasons for such success?

"Obviously it's an honour when you look at the people, like Lesley Vainikolo, who have done it in the past, but it's not something I've been thinking a lot about. It's more a reflection of how well the team has been playing and you can't fault Matt Gidley as [my] centre."

2. Have you done much track sprinting, and how would you compare the difference between the speed a rugby league player needs and that of a sprinter?

"I was a bit of a slow bloomer; I did a bit of running at school and I wasn't bad, but then the rugby took over. It's a bit different as a rugby player, because you need to carry a bit of weight and you don't just run in straight lines. Having said that, we watched Usain Bolt in the Olympic 100 metres when we were down playing at Harlequins and it gave you goosebumps. I wonder if he can catch a ball."

3. What do you do between matches to wind down?

"My two-year-old son, Zack, takes up most of my time. We often have Tuesday off and I like to take him to see the other side of his family, in Barrow. I'm trying to rear him as a Cumbrian, but I don't know if he's going to pick up a Cumbrian accent."

Dave Hadfield