Rugby Union: Hookers opening for real business

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HAPPY hookers? In Geoff Cooke's book, they simply should not exist. Not that the England manager has been conducting a personal survey around the back streets of King's Cross - unless he took the train back north last Monday after delivering a warning to the hookers in his life, the three named in England's 24-man squad for the Twickenham Test against the All Blacks in a fortnight's time.

No, Messrs Moore, Dawe and Olver have nothing to smile about according to Cooke and it is high time they put their act together. 'I'm not happy with the performances of any of our hookers at the moment,' Cooke said at headquarters. Hence the naming of three to chase one position. Cooke is concerned about 'the way they are going about their business and the way they are throwing the ball in'.

Which leaves the trio with two league weekends to lighten up before England announce their final XV. In the case of Brian Moore, the man in possession, this need to prove his worth is nothing new and in a long, hard season, he is cute at pacing himself. At Welford Road this afternoon, though, the youngster Richard Cockerell, who has warmed his seat eight times already on the England A bench, should bring the best out of old Moore. Cockerell, after all, earns his living as an antiques restorer.

Leicester's Cockerell will have something to crow about should Harlequins suffer. Second in the table, a win would push the Tigers four points clear of Quins and give them the chance to draw level with Bath when the champions visit next Saturday. Some match that promises to be.

Today, Leicester have to experiment. Ian Bates has a knee problem, which means Rory Underwood will be playing out of position at centre in his first league match of the season. For Quins, Richard Langhorn returns from injury at No 8.

Graham Dawe should not be too pushed against Newcastle Gosforth, whose first experience of a league game at the Recreation Ground is upset by injuries to their centres Ian Chandler and Ross Wilkinson and the prop John Curry. And talking of props, today marks Gareth Chilcott's last home game for Bath, who will be honouring the occasion with a suitable presentation.

And John Olver? He will be expecting to lead Northampton clear into third place against Orrell at Franklin's Gardens, but line-out ball has been a problem for the Saints and Olver still finds himself without the 6ft 10in Martin Bayfield to aim at. Good news for Orrell and England is that Dewi Morris, who would say that rugby comes easier than falling off a bike, is back at scrum-half after recovering from a shoulder injury incurred when parting company with his off-the-road machine.

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