Rugby Union: Larkham strives to replace Lynagh

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The Independent Online
IT IS now more than three years since Michael Lynagh retired from international rugby, but still Australia are finding those golden boots of his impossible to fill. Yesterday they turned to Stephen Larkham, normally a full-back, to take his shot at the troubled position for next month's Test in Brisbane against England.

Larkham has made his international mark as a No 15 or a winger but the Australian coach, Rod Macqueen, is praying that he can make a successful transition to stand-off and relieve his biggest headache. "We're looking at a long-term solution," Macqueen said. "There is a bit of a risk but there's a risk with whoever we put there."

England will be the first of Australia's 13 Tests this season and as the tour party leaving these shores will have a distinctly rookie feel to it the selectors "down under" are obviously taking the chance to experiment. Whether Larkham will still be at No 10 when Scotland arrive a few weeks later for their two Tests remains to be seen.

With Larkham selected at fly-half, Matthew Burke returns to full-back after recovering from a groin injury. Australia have tried Scott Bowen, Pat Howard, David Knox, Tim Horan and Elton Flatley to replace Lynagh but all have fallen short of the genius's mark.

Macqueen, no doubt, would love to pick Lynagh again and the coach showed his liking for the old campaigners when he gave the former captain, Phil Kearns, the chance to win his 50th cap after a wait of three years. Kearns was out for almost 18 months after injuring his knee in 1996. "It feels like the first cap, I'm absolutely thrilled," Kearns said.

A new face will be the New South Wales second rower Tom Bowman, who wins his first cap after touring Argentina with the Wallabies last season.

AUSTRALIA (v England, Brisbane, 6 June): M Burke; B Tune, D Herbert, T Horan, J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan; T Kefu, D Wilson, M Cockbain, J Eales, T Bowman, A Blades, P Kearns, R Harry. Replacements: C Whitaker, N Grey, J Little, W Ofahenguae, O Finegan, D Crowley, J Paul.

WORLD XV (v Newcastle, Twickenham, 6 June): P Vaccari (It); C Williams (SA), P Sella (capt), S Glas, P Bernet-Salles (all France); D Knox (Aus), A Pichot (Arg); C Blades (Aus), R Ibanez (Fr), M Hurter (SA), H Strydom (SA), W Waugh (Aus), M Giovanelli (It), T Strauss (SA), F Pienaar (SA). Replacements: A Thomas (Wales), G Laupepe (W Samoa), E Rush (NZ), S Latu (Japan), T Coker (Aus), D Garforth, R Cockerill (both Eng). Six Gloucester players - including Raphael Saint-Andre, the brother of the France wing Philippe - are leaving Kingsholm as the director of rugby, Richard Hill, makes room for new arrivals, who are expected to include Simon Mannix, Sale's New Zealand stand-off.

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