Rugby Union: Ireland retain Hickie

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THE IRISH wing Denis Hickie was given a vote of confidence last night when Ireland named an unchanged side to take on the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria tomorrow.

Hickie was demoted to the team that secured a hard-earned 26-18 win against provincial South African team, North West, on Tuesday. He came through unscathed and convinced his coach, Warren Gatland, that he should retain his Test place.

Hickie took most of the blame for the brilliant start by Springbok winger Stefan Terblanche, who scored four tries in his Test debut during South Africa's 37-13 win over Ireland at the weekend.

The Irish management were cagey about disclosing why the winger had clung onto his place. "Only Ciaran Clarke impressed us against North West and the rest of the Test side have performed well as a unit, so there was no reason to change them," the manager, Donal Lenihan, said."Denis is in the side because we are happy with his form, and that's all."

Wales meet the Natal Sharks at Durban's King's Park today and even without their seven current Springboks, the Sharks look capable of inflicting a third successive tour defeat on the Welsh.

To make matters worse, Wales had to reshuffle their line-up yesterday after two further injuries on what has become a highly disrupted tour. Both centres Leigh Davies and second row Mark Jones have been ruled out through injuries which have brought their tour duty to an end.

Davies has a knee injury and Jones an abscess on his back. They will fly home today, joining early tour casualties David Weatherley, Scott Quinnell and Rob Appleyard.

Davies is replaced in the Welsh side by Mark Taylor of Swansea, while Newport's Ian Gough is called up in place of Jones. "It is a big blow losing more players through injury but at least the boys who have come in are capable of performing well,'' Howley said.

"We are under no illusions about the strength of Natal but I would not be going out there if I did not think we had a chance.

IRELAND (v South Africa, Pretoria, tomorrow): O'Shea; Bishop, McCall, Maggs, Hickie; Elwood, McGuinness; Costello, Ward, O'Cuinneagain, O'Kelly, Johns (capt), Wallace, Wood, Fitzpatrick. Replacements: O'Meara, Henderson, Humphreys, Clohessy, Clarke, Fulscher, Brennan.

WALES (v Natal Sharks, Durban, today): B Hayward; W Procter, D James, M Taylor, G Evans; A Thomas, R Howley (capt); D Morris, B Williams, J Davies, I Gough, A Moore, M Williams, K Jones, C Charvis. Replacements: D Williams, J Funnell, P John, M Griffiths, G Jenkins, C Wyatt, N Thomas.