Rugby Union: Cautious Richards: Pack man to decide soon

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The Independent Online
NOT even England's post-Twickenham desperation will be enough to persuade Dean Richards to answer his country's call to face France on Saturday week if he does not feel ready. Yesterday the Lions No 8 was more intent on playing hard to get than playing international rugby.

Tony Russ, Leicester's director of coaching, said on Sunday in the dejected aftermath of Ireland's 13-12 victory that Richards would definitely return against Moseley in Saturday's Pilkington Cup quarter- final - thereby clearing the way for his England comeback.

But the man himself is not yet convinced that his dislocated elbow, which has put him out of rugby for five weeks and off work as a Leicestershire police constable for the same period until he went back yesterday, has fully healed.

'I just don't know when I'll be playing rugby,' he said yesterday. 'The last thing I can afford is another five weeks off work or another six or seven weeks off rugby that would result from another injury to my arm.'

The England selectors restored Tim Rodber to the back row last Saturday even though he had not proved his fitness under match conditions, and there was a time when the same consideration would have applied to Richards. Now, though, he is not so sure. 'I don't think they could play me without a build-up match,' he said.

England will be relieved and France dismayed to know Stephen Hilditch has been appointed referee. The Belfast headmaster sent off two Frenchmen in the equivalent fixture two years ago. Since 1989 England have not lost a Five Nations fixture handled by a referee from one of the home countries.