Rugby Union: Leonard likely to maintain England run

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The Independent Online
A SINGLE comeback game for Harlequins was enough to persuade the England management yesterday that Jason Leonard was ready to play international rugby. In all probability, he will now leap in one bound from club to country when England play Canada at Wembley on Saturday week.

Leonard, 24, is the only specialist loose-head prop in the squad of 24 from whom the team will be announced on Sunday. He is therefore about to conclude a remarkable recovery from the neck operation which immediately followed last season's Grand Slam and so maintain his unbroken England selection since he was capped in Argentina in 1990.

Geoff Cooke, the England manager, says that Victor Ubogu's prospects should not be dismissed, but the fact is that Ubogu has long since converted to the tight head and is the obvious man to have on the bench, where he would succeed last season's prop replacement, Martin Hynes.

Leonard will play again for Harlequins against London Scottish on Saturday, though further proof of his well-being is apparently not required. 'We are quite happy with his state of fitness even though he will have only two games behind him,' Cooke said yesterday.

Hynes, who seemed certain of a cap when he filled Leonard's place against Leicester last month, is jettisoned along with Ben Clarke, the Bath No 8 curiously falling behind three others who have not been playing No 8 this season. At club level, Dean Richards and Dean Ryan have been operating at lock and Tim Rodber on the blind side. In fact, with Mike Teague and Mick Skinner excluded, there is no specialist blind side in the squad.

Brian Moore's shoulder and hamstring injuries led Cooke to include a third hooker in Kevin Dunn, who was second choice to Graham Dawe on the England B tour of New Zealand. Neither Dunn nor Steve Bates, an additional scrum-half, was in this season's two previous England squads.

One certain new cap is Tony Underwood. His brother Rory's decision to revive his international career means that against Canada, Tony and Nigel Heslop will effectively be competing for one wing vacancy when England return to Twickenham against South Africa next month. The autobiography explaining Rory's decision to retire is to be published next Thursday. Whoops.

The Canadians also came out with a squad of 24 yesterday. Half a dozen of their World Cup quarter-final squad have retired. A maximum of seven of the side who so troubled New Zealand in Lille a year earlier almost to the day will have survived to face England, with the additional absentees including the powerful No 8, Glenn Ennis (ex-Blackheath), who is injured, and the unavailable lock, Ron Vanden Brink.

All bar four of Norm Hadley's squad will be involved on Saturday in Canada's biggest domestic game of the season, between British Columbia and Ontario. Before selection is finalised for Wembley, the Canucks will have a trial match of four 20-minute quarters against Rosslyn Park next Tuesday.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Canada, Wembley, 17 October): Backs: J Webb (Bath), N Heslop (Orrell), I Hunter (Northampton), T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), P de Glanville (Bath), R Andrew (Toulouse / Wasps), S Barnes (Bath), D Morris (Orrell), R Hill (Bath), S Bates (Wasps). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), V Ubogu (Bath), B Moore (Harlequins), J Olver (Northampton), K Dunn (Wasps), M Bayfield (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), T Rodber (Northampton), D Ryan (Wasps), D Richards (Leicester), P Winterbottom (Harlequins).

CANADA SQUAD: Backs: J Graf (University of British Columbia OB), S Gray (Kats), J Loveday (Calgary Irish), D Lougheed (Toronto Welsh), S MacKinnon (Ajax Wanderers), P Palmer (UBC OB), G Rees (Merignac), R Ross (James Bay), S Stewart (UBC OB), I Stuart (Vancouver Rowing Club), M Williams (Meralomas). Forwards: A Charron (Ottawa Irish), E Evans (IBM Japan), I Gordon (James Bay), N Hadley (UBC OB, capt), J Hutchison (Yeomen), D Jackart (UBC OB), J Knauer (Meralomas), G MacKinnon (Ex-Britannia Lions), C McKenzie (UBC OB), T Moen (James Bay), K Svoboda (Ajax Wanderers), K Whitley (Calgary Irish), K Wirachowski (Velox Valhallians).

WALES B (v North of England, Pontypool, 14 October): M Rayer (Cardiff); Simon Davies (Swansea), N Boobyer, N Davies, W Proctor (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Moon (Llanelli, capt); R Evans (Llanelli), N Meek (Pontypool), J Davies (Neath), P Davies (Llanelli), S Roy (Cardiff), I Davies (Swansea), A Williams (Maesteg), L Jones (Llanelli). Replacements: P John (Pontypridd), A Davies (Cardiff), R McBryde, I Buckett, A Reynolds (Swansea), P Kawulok (Cardiff).