Rugby Union: Captain Rodber completes long march to rehabilitation

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The Independent Online
Four games, four captains. It is three years to the week since Tim Rodber embarked on his long march to notoriety in Port Elizabeth and, while he will be in no great rush to celebrate the anniversary, the wheel has finally turned full circle. Tomorrow, Rodber follows in the recent studmarks of Jason Leonard, Rob Wainwright and Martin Johnson by captaining the Lions against Mpumalanga in Witbank.

After being sent off for his full and frank contribution to England's almighty dust-up with Eastern Province on a bloodstained night in 1994, Rodber must have wondered if he would ever again be permitted to lead an old lady across the road, let alone a rugby team. Yet when push came to shove at yesterday's selection meeting, Fran Cotton and Ian McGeechan had no hesitation in handing Corporal Tim the reins of a side most notable for Neil Jenkins' appearance at stand-off rather than full-back.

"What happened in the past, happened," Rodber said. "I learned from it, of course, but I won't shy away from any physical contact on the right side of the law. In fact, we're preparing ourselves for a very physical game in Witbank. From what we know, Mpumalanga are the dark horses on the itinerary."

In the bitterest of ironies, the Northampton No 8 will renew his acquaintance with Elandre van der Bergh, the Springbok forward whose outrageous, scar- inducing stamp on the face of Jon Callard did more than anything to draw the red mist over Rodber's eyes back in '94. Van der Bergh switched from Easterns to Mpumalanga, formerly known as South-Eastern Transvaal, at the start of the season and plays alongside Marius Bosman in the boilerhouse tomorrow.

Not surprisingly, Rodber had more positive things on his mind yesterday: notably, a priceless opportunity to force his way into Test contention. Certainly, he did not consider himself typecast as midweek captain for the rest of the trip. "There is no such thing as a dirt-tracker side on this tour," he insisted bluntly. "It's a bad word and a thing of the past. We have 35 players here pushing towards one goal."

The "one goal" theory may run through the Lions' collective psyche, but it does not cut much ice in the big wide world outside. It became clear yesterday that Jack Rowell, the England coach, was none too impressed at having Mike Catt, his in-form outside-half, snaffled from under his nose by Cotton, who lost Paul Grayson to injury at the weekend. Catt, a major hit on England's still unfinished tour of Argentina, flies into Pretoria tomorrow and will therefore miss the second Test against the Pumas in Buenos Aires.

"We'd have been dreadfully exposed had we not been able to call on Mike," Cotton said. "Jack wondered whether we might agree to Mike staying on for the Test and I understood his point of view. But the Lions have to go on with 35 fit men."

Talking of fitness, Eric Miller, the Irish No 8, revealed yesterday that he suffered a fractured cheekbone during the close call with Border in East London six days ago. "One side of my face was numb for a couple of days, so I went for an X-ray on Saturday and the pictures clearly showed a break in the bone," he said. "It's not too serious, though. I'm hoping to play on Saturday."

Meanwhile, two of South Africa's rugby folk heroes, Kobus Wiese and Hennie le Roux, have been left out of a 27-man squad for the warm-up Test with Tonga a week today and, by extension, the three-Test series with the Lions.

Wiese and Le Roux have had injury problems of late and failed to make up sufficient lost ground in their guest appearances for Eastern Province against the Lions 10 days ago.

Edrich Lubbe, a centre from Griqualand West, replaces le Roux in midfield in the starting line-up against the Tongans while Krynauw Otto, the Northern Transvaal lock, gets an opportunity in the second row.

LIONS TEAM (v Mpumalanga, tomorrow, 2.15pm, Witbank): N Beal (Northampton and England); I Evans (Llanelli and Wales), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), W Greenwood (Leicester), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales), M Dawson (Northampton and England); T Smith (Watsonians and Scotland), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), P Wallace (Saracens and Ireland), G Weir (Newcastle and Scotland), J Davidson (London Irish and Ireland), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland), T Rodber (Northampton and England, capt), N Back (Leicester and England). Replacements: J Guscott (Bath and England), G Townsend (Northampton and Scotland), A Healey (Leicester and England), M Regan (Bristol and England), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), S Quinnell (Richmond and Wales).

Jon Callard, the 31-year-old Bath full-back, was yesterday called up to replace Mike Catt on England's tour of Argentina, which continues today with a match against Cuyo. Chris Sheasby, the Wasps No 8 will captain the side.

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