Rugby Union: Back dropped from A team

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UNWONTED strains in England selection became apparent yesterday when Neil Back was left out of the A team to play Spain at Richmond on Friday week so that Geoff Cooke's desire to try Steve Ojomoh as an open-side flanker could finally be fulfilled.

The England manager said before Christmas, when Back was excluded from the training squad for Lanzarote on grounds of height and weight, that Ojomoh, hitherto a No 8 or blind side, was the type of physical specimen best suited to modern open-side play. Which appears to have made him Peter Winterbottom's heir apparent at the very moment England's static performances have evoked calls for a player of Back's fleet-footed type.

Ojomoh stands 6ft 2in and 15st 10lb to Back's 5-10 and 13-10. Even so, the A-team selectors gladly persisted with Back, who has been superb in B and A rugby over the past couple of seasons including last summer in New Zealand. Now, they have effectively been overruled and, for all the pace and vision of his play, Back is derisorily relegated to the replacements.

'This is an extension of the idea developed before the Lanzarote training weekend that Ojomoh has the physical presence to be an international open-side flanker,' Graham Smith, the England A manager, said yesterday. 'As far as the A team are concerned, Back has proved an outstanding contributor last season, on tour in New Zealand and so far this year.'

Another curiosity is the inclusion of Dean Richards, filling Ojomoh's No 8 place after being on the senior bench against Wales. Doubtless it will be a proud moment for the Hinckley policeman to add his first cap at this level to his 34 as a full international. There is little about him any of the selectors do not know, but Smith said: 'Dean is still thought of in terms of international selection. This gives him the chance to be seen at international level and an opportunity to stake a claim for a Lions place.'

On the other hand, how willing those considering the Lions party for New Zealand will be to take evidence adduced against this level of opposition is arguable; England B ran up 50 points against Spain - the national team, that is - at Gloucester two years ago and 34 in Madrid last season.

England A squad, Sport in Short, page 39

Rugby's merry-go-round, page 38

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