North in 'bias' claim

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

England A's selectors have been attacked for an alleged bias against the North in the choice of players to meet Western Samoa at Gateshead on 12 December.

The North have won both their games in the CIS Insurance Divisional Championship to date, but have seen just two of their players - Tim Stimpson, the West Hartlepool full-back, and Orrell's Jim Naylor on the wing - picked for the England A team.

Stan Bagshaw, the North's team secretary, said yesterday: "Some of our players have put in tremendous displays and we completely outplayed the South-West, yet we have two men involved, while they have six.

"I'm very disappointed for the players. They felt that after the South Africa game, Divisional form might count for something.

"But looking at the England A team, they may think otherwise now.

"To take one obvious example, Neil Ashurst was absolutely outstanding against the South- West and still very good against London. His performance at Bridgwater brought back memories of Peter Winterbottom, and that is no disrespect to Richard Hill.

"Hill is a fine player and very highly regarded by all the North lads, which is why Ashurst's display was so impressive. He was head and shoulders above everybody on the field, so how they can pick Hill I can't understand.

"In that opening game, Jim Mallinder, who has kept Jon Sleightholme out of the North team, was the pick of the wing men against the South-West, yet he doesn't figure and Jon's in the team.

"The fact is that the two Divisions who have won both their games have four players in the team. The players are bound to be disappointed, and I can sympathise with them."

The North could be running into another dispute with the England A management team about their final CIS Championship match of the season, against last year's champions, the Midlands, at Nottingham on 9 December - just three days before the Western Samoan game.

"We want all our players to be available for that match, which is so important to the North," Bagshaw said.

"Whatever people may say about the championship, it is very important to the North as a whole.

"We haven't won it for a while and have put a lot into developing our players and trying to pull them together as a successful team. We want to try to win it.

"The Midlands will also be fancying their chances and we want the strongest team we can bring together.

"We're hoping that the England A people will appreciate what a Divisional win would mean to the North."