Rugby Union: EURO STARS: FOUR WITH A POINT TO PROVE IN THE EUROPEAN CUP

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The Independent Online
CHRISTIAN CALIFANO

TOULOUSE

When France slaughtered Wales 51-0 at Wembley 18 months ago, there was little argument that Califano was the world's leading loose-head prop and a considerable force outside the set piece - fleet of foot and hand. Then came injury followed by a loss of form which coincided with France's collapse from Grand Slam to wooden spoon. An ignominious World Cup saw him banned for head-butting a Fijian, and he will not return until after the tournament opener at Bath. With his place going to Cedric Soulette, the 27-year-old will not lack motivation in the weeks ahead.

BEN CLARKE

BATH

When Lawrence Dallaglio was banished by tabloid drug allegations, Clarke's career briefly lit up again. Consumed by his depression at the demise of Richmond, the former Lions' No 8 was dealt the consolation prize of a summer trip Down Under by the England coach, Clive Woodward. He looked set to make the World Cup squad even after Dallaglio's return, only to suffer further heartache on the eve of the tournament with his exclusion. Now back at Bath, the club where he made his name and with whom he won most of his 40 caps, the 31-year-old forward may see this as his last serious campaign.

TIM STIMPSON

LEICESTER

Another England man with a point to make after his exclusion from Woodward's final 30. Stimpson returned to Welford Road to resume his Premiership career without complaint and has played a key role in keeping the champions, Leicester, afloat without their World Cup contingent with a barrage of points. Matt Perry's grip on the England full-back's spot seems secure, but Stimpson, 26, is determined to prove his credentials and earn a recall to the replacements' bench for the Six Nations. His destructive bursts into the line will be one of Leicester's main weapons.

ARWEL THOMAS

SWANSEA

The sight of this waif of a fly-half ghosting across 40 yards of Murrayfield turf (and almost over the dead-ball line before remembering to ground the ball) against Scotland in January 1997 is strong in the memory. Thomas was 22 and it seemed he was launching a long and glorious career in the hallowed Welsh No 10 shirt. Then gremlins, in the shape of crucial concentration lapses followed by losses of form and confidence, led to his fall from favour and a return from full-back for Neil Jenkins. But Thomas, just 25, is keener than ever to prove he can still dazzle with talent, speed and flair.

PAUL TROW

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