Rugby Union: Back at front of England queue

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The Independent Online
Leicester. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .38

Wasps. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

FROM England's point of view, this season means going back to the drawing board and on the evidence here Neil Back's claims on a back-row place have never looked stronger now that Peter Winterbottom has retired. The No 7 jersey is up for grabs and against Wasps, the tigerish Back grabbed everything.

Wasps slumped to a record league defeat and need no reminding that on their previous Courage visit they were beaten 31-12 or that they have yet to score a try in the competition at Welford Road. On Saturday, they never came close to improving on past performances, leaving Leicester and their Midlands rivals, Northampton, to make what they can of a dip at Bath.

In Leicester's case, the champions will be dropping in on 20 November for a sell-out occasion which promises to be every bit as bruising as the England-New Zealand Test seven days later. If Back is in business, of course, he may well give Bath a miss and preserve his body for the All Blacks, who in any case were surprised at his non- selection for the Lions summer tour.

Selection policy is interesting. On the England B tour to Spain in 1989, Alan Davies was in charge of the tourists. Regarded as the thinking man's coach but subsequently discarded by England - which has been a plus for Wales - Davies asked one evening: 'Who would be your first-choice player when selecting a side?'

'Stand-off, or perhaps your goal- kicking full-back,' I suggested tentatively. 'No,' Davies said, 'your No 7.' Which was why at Nottingham, then Davies's club, the name of Gary Rees was always the first to go down on the team-sheet. What a game England could build around Back if they had a mind even if, at 5ft 10in, he is not the giant beast that so many modern selectors are sold on.

Back is a constant pain in the neck who gives you non-stop harassment plus football skills. He scored a try after five minutes to give the Tigers a roaring start, while included in his repertoire was a tackle on Dean Ryan from which he emerged, as if by magic, with the ball and a wonderful long rolling kick to touch under pressure. 'He kept nicking our ball,' Rob Smith, the Wasps coach, said. 'It was embarrassing.'

Leicester also stole a lot of line- out ball through Martin Johnson and Matt Poole, which had a crucial bearing on the outcome, while John Wells and Dean Richards completed a fine afternoon's work by the back row with tries of their own.

Leicester: Tries Back, Wells, Poole, Richards; Conversions Harris 3; Penalties Harris 3; Drop goal: Harris. Wasps: Penalties Andrew 2.

Leicester: W Kilford; S Hackney, I Bates, S Potter, D Wigley; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells, D Richard (capt), N Back.

Wasps: A Buzza; P Hopley, F Clough, D Hopley, C Oti; R Andrew, M Skinner; G Holmes, K Dunn (P Green, 66), J Probyn, R Kinsey, S Shortland, M Greenwood, D Ryan, L Dallaglio.

Referee: D Matthews (St Helens).

(Photograph omitted)

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