Rugby: Costello beaten to the punch

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HOW THE mighty - or, in this case, the mighty big - have fallen, writes Chris Hewett. Victor Costello, the extremely substantial Irish No 8 who made a name for himself during the 1998 Five Nations by out-sprinting a certain Jeremy Guscott down the Twickenham touchline, yesterday found himself lapped by his World Cup rivals as the selectors named a 34-man preliminary squad for the showpiece tournament.

Dion O'Cuinneagain, who captained Ireland in Australia at the start of the summer, and Eric Miller, the 1997 Lion, have beaten Costello to the punch, which is no particular surprise given the latter's recent fixation with a peculiar form of rugby-playing pacifism. Assuming both O'Cuinneagain and Miller survive Ireland's pre-World Cup preparations, which begin with a match against Connacht this weekend and also include a full Test against Argentina on 28 August, the St Mary's forward will spend the autumn on the outside looking in.

So, too, will the young scrum-half from Dublin, Ciaran Scally, who lost ground to Tom Tierney during Ireland's series defeat in Australia and has now been overhauled by Conor McGuinness and Brian O'Meara. Four uncapped players are under consideration for the final 30: Mike Mullins, the former West Hartlepool centre, and Ronan O'Gara, the Cork Constitution stand- off, have the regular inside backs under pressure, while two Leinster tight forwards, Angus McKeen and Robert Casey, are also competing for places.

The Welsh, meanwhile, go into Saturday's Test with Canada at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in mix-and-match mode. Scott Gibbs and Jonathan Humphreys, two obvious World Cup heavyweights, return from injury at centre and hooker respectively, but there are experimental selections out wide, where Allan Bateman has an opportunity to re-invent himself as a left-wing, and at lock, where the Swansea second-row Andy Moore gets a first start under Graham Henry.

WALES (v Canada, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Saturday): S Howarth (Newport); N Walne (Cardiff), L Davies (Cardiff), S Gibbs (Swansea), A Bateman (Northampton); N Jenkins (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), J Humphreys (Cardiff), B Evans (Swansea), C Quinnell (Cardiff), A Moore (Swansea), G Lewis (Pontypridd), M Williams (Cardiff), S Quinnell (Llanelli). Replacements: N Boobyer (Llanelli), S Jones (Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Newport), C Wyatt (Llanelli), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), D Young (Cardiff), A Lewis (Cardiff).

IRELAND PRELIMINARY WORLD CUP SQUAD: Backs: C O'Shea (London Irish), G Dempsey (Terenure College), J Bishop (London Irish), M Mostyn (Galwegians), J Topping (Ballymena), D Hickie (St Mary's College), K Maggs (Bath), B O'Driscoll (Blackrock College), J Bell (Dungannon), M Mullins (Young Munster), R Henderson (Wasps), D Humphreys (Dungannon), E Elwood (Galwegians), R O'Gara (Cork Constitution), T Tierney (Garryowen), B O'Meara (Cork Constitution), C McGuinness (St Mary's College). Forwards: P Clohessy (Young Munster), J Fitzpatrick (Dungannon), R Corrigan (Lansdowne), P Wallace (Saracens), A McKeen (Lansdowne), K Wood (Garryowen), R Nesdale (Newcastle), P Johns (Dungannon), J Davidson (Castres), M O'Kelly (St Mary's College), R Casey (Blackrock College), T Brennan (St Mary's College), D Corkery (Cork Constitution), A Ward (Ballynahinch), K Dawson (London Irish), D O'Cuinneagain (Ballymena), E Miller (Terenure College).