Rugby Union: Hull wins first cap for England: Old guard find favour for first Test against South Africa

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The Independent Online
A FIRST cap for Paul Hull was the most obvious of the England selections made yesterday for the first Test against South Africa at the Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. The real debate was about the back row and whether to stand by Dean Richards. The only player not considered was Stuart Barnes, who has a groin injury.

Another debate was joined last night when Jack Rowell, the manager, sharply reminded his players of the absolute need for discipline after the brawling that disfigured the close of the South Africa A game in Kimberley.

Jackie Abrahams, the Springbok selector who manages the A team, has offered to meet the England management to ensure no repetition in the Test and Rowell would be amenable - though Fritz van Heerden, the A-team flanker, is the only one of Tuesday's antagonists due to play in Pretoria.

'I am sure that between us we can ensure that, subject to appropriate refereeing, we can instil in the players appropriate discipline,' Rowell said. 'I'm not blaming anyone; I'm blaming everyone.'

Tuesday's contretemps is considerably less of an issue here than might appear the case from reports reaching home, though Rowell was noticeably less circumspect in dealing with it yesterday than he had been immediately after the match. On tour he had already given some players a piece of his mind after less dramatic incidents in the opening game with Orange Free State.

New to international management as Rowell may be, this first selection reflects the allegiance to incumbent players, the virtue, and occasionally vice, of his predecessor, Geoff Cooke. There was a case for preferring Steve Ojomoh on the billiard-table Loftus pitch but loyalty to Richards, alongside Tim Rodber and Ben Clarke, prevailed.

'Ojomoh has been one of the stars of the tour, so really we were looking at three from four. That took up most of our discussions,' Rowell said. 'In the end we've gone with the status quo but there is a clear message that people know Ojomoh is pressing hard.'

This presumably is a warning aimed at Richards, one player Cooke was actually never afraid to drop, though when England reach Cape Town for the second Test on Saturday week they will find conditions much more akin to what they know, and Richards is thought to like, at home.

The injured Martin Johnson has now departed South Africa and been replaced at lock by Martin Bayfield, who would probably have won a place anyway. Include the deserving Hull for Ian Hunter and England differ in only two respects from the side who beat Wales in March. Whatever their travails on tour, this is precious stability compared with the Springboks' seven changes.

Indeed, Hull is here only as a result of Hunter's withdrawal, making his progress into the Test all the more astonishing. Others have been selected on past, rather than present, endeavour but the Bristol full- back is a form choice after proficient performances against Free State, Western Transvaal and, most critically, Transvaal.

ENGLAND (v South Africa, Pretoria, Saturday): P Hull (Bristol); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu, N Redman (Bath), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath). Replacements: J Callard, M Catt (Bath), S Bates (Wasps), G Rowntree (Leicester), G Dawe, S Ojomoh (Bath).

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