Rugby Union: Barnes' hard act to follow

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The Independent Online
STUART BARNES has caused England enough problems down the years by refusing to sit on the bench; now the problem is that he has agreed, and been chosen, to do so against France at Twickenham on Saturday week. As a result, the selectors are having difficulty deciding who should succeed him as captain of the B team.

In fact, we must get used to calling England B England A, even though their opponents at Leicester on Friday week will be France B (in effect the French third team, as there is also a France A). When they were selected in Lanzarote yesterday as a diversion from the squad weekend, the leadership remained undecided.

'From our base here in Lanzarote we have communicated with the A team manager, Graham Smith, about selection but he and the coach, Jack Rowell, who is out here, want to sit down and decide who should be captain in succession to Stuart,' Geoff Cooke, the England manager, said.

Likely candidates are Richard Hill, once the senior England captain, and John Buckton. England A include seven of the nine players who are in Lanzarote but not in England's 21 for Twickenham, the exceptions being the wing Darren O'Leary and prop Chris Clark.

Almost as soon as England depart Lanzarote today, Wales will take over - but without the Llanelli centre Nigel Davies, who yesterday withdrew with a hamstring injury. His club captain, Rupert Moon had already pulled out, but a third Scarlet, the flanker Emyr Lewis, is ready to go after recovering from a shoulder injury.

Meanwhile, Gregor Townsend, the 19-year-old Gala stand-off challenging for a Scotland centre place, admitted yesterday that he was struggling to recover from a knee injury. The choice to play Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday week will be announced tomorrow.

ENGLAND A (v France B, Welford Road Leicester, 15 January): A Buzza (Wasps); T Underwood (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), J Buckton (Saracens), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), R Hill (Bath); M Hynes (Orrell), K Dunn (Wasps), A Mullins (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall (Bath), S Ojomoh (Bath), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: N Beal (Northampton), P Grayson (Waterloo), M Dawson (Northampton), C Clark (Swansea), R Cockerill (Leicester), D Ryan (Wasps).