Poser for Kear as Sculthorpe makes late bid

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The coaches of England and New Zealand are both still weighing up their selection options before their World Cup semi-final on Saturday. Each faces a dilemma with a player making a bid for inclusion and neither, on yesterday's showing, intends to rush into a decision.

The coaches of England and New Zealand are both still weighing up their selection options before their World Cup semi-final on Saturday. Each faces a dilemma with a player making a bid for inclusion and neither, on yesterday's showing, intends to rush into a decision.

John Kear's choice for England is whether to bring in Paul Sculthorpe for his first game of the tournament. The St Helens back-row man has been ruled out so far by a hamstring injury. "But he is now training at 100 per cent," said Kear. "He went very well indeed and he has put his hat in the ring. along with the other back row jewels we have."

With the strongest department of the team now looking markedly stronger, Kear could opt to play Sculthorpe or Andy Farrell at stand-off in a bid to counter the physical power of the Kiwis. It could be Saturday before we know the answer to that one.

One thing that did become clear yesterday was that Stuart Spruce will take no further part in the tournament. The Bradford full-back has had clean-up surgery on his knee and will be out of action for six weeks, but England have decided against calling in a replacement.

"We have 22 fit players in the squad and I've got complete confidence in whichever 17 we use on Saturday," said Kear. "We started with a plan of how we wanted to play against Australia, how we wanted to play against Ireland and how we wanted to play against New Zealand. That could mean some different permutations."

The Kiwis' Frank Endacott must decide between two outstanding scrum-halves.

Stacey Jones came to England as first choice, but in his absence Robbie Paul included a hat-trick of tries in a fine performance against France in the quarter-finals.

"I thought he played great and really put the pressure on," said Endacott. "We've got two world-class half-backs. Whoever we start with, the other can come off the bench to do some damage."

The Australia referee, Tim Mander, has been put in charge of the game, with England's Russell Smith refereeing Australia against Wales the following day.

If attendances for the World Cup have been generally disappointing, figures for TV audiences released yesterday look far more encouraging. The audience for the Australia versus Samoa quarter-final on the BBC on Saturday peaked at 3.2 million, a million more than the Scotland versus Australia rugby union international the same day.

Wales' match against Papua New Guinea reached a high of 1.8 million, while Sky's coverage of the opening game between England and Australia drew its biggest ever viewership for rugby league.

Bradford have signed the Australian second-row forward Daniel Gartner from the Northern Eagles on a two-year contract. Gartner has played in three Grand Finals and once for his country.

"He's an outstanding signing," said the Bulls' coach, Brian Noble. "He's really excited about coming here and I'm really excited about coaching him."

Comments