Rugby union: Back withdraws from tour party

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The Independent Online
AND THEN there were not very many. Neil Back, widely regarded as England's international rugby union player of the season, yesterday became the umpteenth first-choicer to drop out of the red rose party for this summer's daunting trek around the southern hemisphere. Clive Woodward, the national coach, must now be in serious danger of picking himself for the opening Test against Australia in 12 days' time.

Woodward announced yesterday that Back had failed a pre-tour medical at Twickenham. "He's suffering from a groin injury that requires rest and therefore is not fit to travel," said the coach before calling up Richard Pool-Jones, a 28-year-old former Wasp currently playing impressively for the crack Parisian club, Stade Francais.

England must now tackle all three southern superpowers without five of their elite pack, not to mention both preferred half-backs and three of their top four threequarters. Given that Lawrence Dallaglio, Richard Hill and Tim Rodber were already missing from the back-row equation, Back's temporary demise is almost too much to bear.

"I'm very disappointed," said the Leicester open-side yesterday. "I'd structured my whole summer around the tour but in the light of the RFU [Rugby Football Union] medical team's advice, I must get the problem resolved as soon as possible."

l Welsh rugby officials were given the backing yesterday to carry on the long-running and expensive battle with their richest club, Cardiff. At a special general meeting of the Welsh Rugby Union all the other clubs in Wales rubber-stamped the move to get the Premier Division club to sign an outstanding 10-year-loyalty agreement regarding television deals and sponsorship.