Rugby Union: London rely on power of Jenkins

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The Independent Online
THE LONDON selectors made a decision of principle not to consider overseas players, no matter how distinguished, in their choice to play New Zealand on Saturday and then when they named their team yesterday came up with a London Irishman in the back row.

No problem there: Rory Jenkins, despite his club, his Irish christian name and Welsh surname, is English - a former schools cap who by his selection is now among the contenders to succeed Peter Winterbottom on England's open side. Saturday's match will be the next-best thing to an international: Twickenham is a 56,400 sell-out, an unprecedented figure for a non-Test or non- Barbarians tour match.

Irish or not, yer man is a popular young fellow. Both the Midlands and the South-West expressed their interest in his services before he chose London. A 23-year-old Cambridge graduate studying law in London, he won Blues in three sports: cricket and athletics (he throws the discus) as well as rugby.

His place has come at the expense of Lawrence Dallaglio, who pays the price for London's inadequacies against the North last Saturday even though Rob Andrew, his captain, identifies the front five forwards as the main problem.

'His strengths are very much of a ball-winning and knocking-down nature; he is a very strong, explosive young man,' Tony Jorden, the London coach, said of Jenkins.

Jorden suggested Jenkins's muscular aggression would put the tourists on the back foot, but there is no doubt that his defensive capability, in particular his crunching tackling, will be critical in containing a Test-strength All Black pack whose only changes from the side that beat the British Isles in the third Test three months ago are Steve Gordon for Robin Brooke at lock and Paul Henderson for Michael Jones on the flank. Neither Brooke nor John Timu was considered for this match; Jones withdrew from the tour with a broken jaw.

Jorden did not wish to discuss the non-selection of Norm Hadley and Troy Coker, international locks from Wasps/Canada and Harlequins/Australia respectively. 'It's not a relevant question,' he said, though there was a lobby that they be introduced to beef up the pack and it had become irrelevant only because Hadley has broken a leg and Coker a hand.

Injuries to David Pears and Alan Buzza left the 34-year-old Huw Davies, who last represented England 7 1/2 years ago, to carry on at full- back. A second change brings back Chris Oti on the left wing for Daren O'Leary. Oti has been passed fit, though who fills the vacancy on the London bench will depend on his successful completion of tonight's final training session.

The initial New Zealand selection is a contrast between experienced forwards and a back line with only two current Test players, Va'aiga Tuigamala and Frank Bunce. The scrum-half Stuart Forster and wing Jeff Wilson will make their All Black debuts. Wilson is a sporting prodigy to match Jenkins, having already played one-day cricket for New Zealand. His favourite sport is basketball . . . what else?

LONDON (v New Zealand, Saturday): H Davies; T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), D Hopley, C Oti; R Andrew (capt), S Bates (all Wasps); J Leonard, B Moore (both Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), A Snow, R Langhorn (both Harlequins), M Greenwood, D Ryan (both Wasps), R Jenkins (London Irish). Replacements: G Gregory (Nottingham), R Glenister (Harlequins), A N Other, G Holmes (Wasps), G Botterman (Saracens), C Sheasby (Harlequins).

NEW ZEALAND: M Cooper; V Tuigamala, F Bunce, M Berry, J Wilson; S Bachop, S Forster; C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, S Gordon, I Jones, P Henderson, A Pene, J Joseph. Replacements: J Preston, M Ellis, S Howarth, N Hewitt, M Allen, Z Brooke.