Minor mission lined up for Hull

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Making up with Paul Hull is hard to do after his omission from England's World Cup squad but the England selectors are trying their best by making him captain of the tour party who will play seven matches in Australia and Fiji at the same time as the great tournament in South Africa.

Hull was the unluckiest, and therefore most contentious, of the non-selections for the World Cup and in truth this is very minor consolation. On the other hand, perhaps he should take heart because the choice of the 30- strong tour party has been made with the 1999 tournament specifically in view.

So much so that none of the senior players - in particular Steve Bates, Nigel Redman and John Hall - who did not make the World Cup squad is being taken to Australia, in contrast to the England B party who went to New Zealand in 1992 when it was deemed essential to have a backbone of experience.

"I am still disappointed about being omitted from the World Cup squad, but I am delighted to be able to captain this young squad," Hull said. "I had geared myself to the World Cup, which was obviously first prize so I had to consider whether I wanted the continuing commitment."

As it happens, Hall told the selectors that, even if they were interested in him, he was not interested in their tour, having already resolved to retire after the World Cup if he had been picked for that. Instead, the farewell appearance of an outstanding career will come when he leads Bath in the Pilkington Cup final against Wasps on 6 May.

Without Bates, Redman and Hall, this England squad are restricted to two full internationals. Hull won his four caps after succeeding the injured David Pears and Ian Hunter as England's full-back last year and it was his great misfortune to lose his place after Mike Catt had replaced him during the Canada match in December.

Pears has been unluckier still, however, and even now, as soon as he has made his comeback for Harlequins, he is once more hors de combat with a nasty concussion which puts his tour place - back in his preferred position at outside-half - in jeopardy.

The perennially injured Pears will have a mandatory three-week absence from rugby which will keep him out of most of the rest of Quins' fight against relegation and is also in sufficient doubt for the tour that an alternative has already been named just in case: Nick Ryan of Waterloo.

ENGLAND TOUR PARTY: Full-backs: P Hull (Bristol, capt), T Stimpson (West Hartlepool); Wings: S Hackney (Leicester), P Holford (Gosford), J Naylor (Orrell), J Sleightholme (Bath); Centres: N Greenstock (Wasps), W Greenwood, P Mensah (Harlequins), S Potter (Leicester); Outside-halves: P Grayson (Northampton), D Pears (Harlequins) or N Ryan (Waterloo); Scrum-halves: M Dawson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Wasps).

Props: D Crompton (Bath), D Garforth (Leicester), R Hardwick (Coventry), K Yates (Bath); Hookers: G Adams (Bath), M Regan (Bristol); Locks: G Archer (Newcastle Gosforth), J Fowler (Sale), M Haag (Bath), D Sims (Gloucester); Back row: M Corry (Newcastle Gosforth), L Dallaglio (Wasps), A Diprose, R Hill (Saracens), R Jenkins, C Sheasby (Harlequins).

Itinerary: 20 May South Australia (Adelaide); 24 May Victoria (Melbourne); 28 May Queensland (Brisbane); 31 May Australian Universities (Sydney); 4 June New South Wales Country (Gosford); 7 June Australia XV (Brisbane); 10 June Fiji (Suva).

n Scotland's A tour to Zimbabwe has been cut to four matches from five. Zimbabwe felt the team for the fifth match would comprise players who had already faced the Scots. The 26-strong squad will be announced on Friday.

SCOTLAND A ITINERARY: 31 May Country Districts (Banket); 3 June Zimbabwe (Bulawayo); 7 June Zimbabwe A (Mutare); 10 June Zimbabwe (Harare).