Rugby Union: Hunter to prey on Leicester

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SCOTTISH interest in the Barbarians' Christmas party is not all it was cracked up to be, Gary Armstrong and Tony Stanger dropping out of Monday's festivities against Leicester at Welford Road. Help, though, is at hand in the not-inconsiderable shape of Ian Hunter and Steve Bates, two capped Englishmen who will enjoy a further chance to impress.

Hunter, the Northampton full- back, takes to the wing - as he has been required to by England - in place of Stanger, who will be on A team duty for Scotland against Ireland in Dublin. Bates, the Wasp with a solitary cap against Romania to his name but pushing Dewi Morris hard at scrum-half these days, takes over from Armstrong, who has decided to turn out for Jed-Forest in a league match.

This reduces the Scottish contingent to three - Gavin Hastings at full-back, Craig Chalmers at stand-off and Damian Cronin in the second row. The Baa-baas may also be looking for a hooker as John Olver suffered knee ligament damage playing for the Midlands in the Divisional Championship last weekend.

The match provides a couple of Leicester back-row men with a chance to aim a point or two in England's direction. Dean Richards, who had a monumental game in last Saturday's draw with the South-West, may not be going squad training in Lanzarote over the New Year but he is still a force in the land at No 8. Thanks to injury, he has missed the previous four Tigers' outings against the Barbarians.

Neil Back, reckoned to be short of the necessary in terms of height according to Geoff Cooke, the England manager, can also be expected to rise to the occasion. Leicester's back row, meanwhile, is completed by John Wells. The captain returns after missing six games with a broken hand. As for pace on the wings, Leicester need look no further than the Underwoods.

While Steve Lloyd, a Midlander from Moseley with Welsh and English qualifications, will hope to further his own cause from the Barbarians second row, he must be concerned at the news from his club. They have been hit by a mystery blood infection which has affected five of their first-team squad.

The lock Chris Raymond has spent five days in hospital being treated for blood poisoning, while four other players at The Reddings have suffered cuts which then turned septic. The Second Division side's medical staff are now trying to establish whether the infection was carried by one of the players or picked up from contaminated soil.