Rugby Union: Morrison and Lander launch newest profession

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The Independent Online
IF ONLY selection was always this easy. The Rugby Football Union, not exactly noted for putting all the right people in all the right places all of the time, yesterday named Ed Morrison, the world's best referee, among their first batch of full-time officials. It must have taken the governing body all of 30 seconds to give the 47-year-old Bristolian the nod, although Morrison himself was uncertain whether his age might persuade them otherwise.

Steve Lander, who found fame if not fortune when Neil Back, the Leicester and England flanker, deposited him on his rear end after the 1996 Pilkington Cup final, has also been awarded a professional contract, as has Chris White, the Cheltenham official rated the brightest of England's latest batch of Test-standard referees. The RFU plans to appoint three more full- timers in the new year.

Morrison, a 24-carat rugby man who still organises fixtures for Bristol Harlequins, his old junior club, controlled the last World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand in Johannesburg three years ago. He and his two colleagues join more than a dozen southern hemisphere professionals, including the top New Zealanders Colin Hawke and Paddy O'Brien, on what remains a very exclusive full-time list and they will be at the forefront of urgent efforts to harmonise refereeing interpretations in advance of next year's World Cup in Wales.

"I think that will be a very important role for us all," Morrison said yesterday. "Refereeing will never be a precise science but it is vital that top players know, as far as possible, what to expect every time they set foot on a pitch, be it in Europe or south of the equator. I'm delighted to have been offered this opportunity, but I'm even more delighted for young officials like Chris, who find it so difficult to balance their refereeing with the demands of their careers."

Martin Leslie, a New Zealand-born loose forward, has been fast-tracked into a 26-man Scotland squad for this month's matches against the touring Maoris, unbeaten since 1993, and the Springboks, who flew into Heathrow today to launch their first assault on a Grand Slam for nearly 40 years. Jim Telfer, the coaching force behind last year's Lions triumph in South Africa, named Leslie on the strength of some video footage and a 40- minute gallop with his new employers, Edinburgh Reivers, a fortnight ago.

Described by Telfer as "an adaptable player who can fill all three back- row positions," Leslie has National Provincial Championship experience with Wellington, the strong New Zealand province, and qualifies for the Scots through grandparents. He may replace a fellow kilted Kiwi, the injured Gordon Simpson, on the open-side flank.

Telfer has called in 16 Scotland-based players, including Tom Smith, the loose-head who helped the Lions to glory last year before spending an entire season on the injury list. Kenny Logan's energetic form for Wasps earns him a recall and there is also a place for Derrick Lee, the disaffected London Scottish full-back.

Fears of a damaging dispute between the Scottish selectors and the English Premiership teams over player release receded yesterday when the clubs agreed to free their charges for the Maori meeting tomorrow week. "However, the Maori match is not an international fixture as defined by the International Rugby Board and we need a consistent ruling," said Donald Kerr, the chairman of English First Division Rugby.

There is little enough consistency about Bath's team selection at the moment; the European champions, who visit Premiership leaders Leicester tomorrow, have made five changes to the side humbled by London Scottish last weekend. Four full internationals - Phil de Glanville, Kevin Yates, Mark Regan and Martin Haag - are dropped while another, Ieuan Evans, is suffering from a flu-type virus. Iain Balshaw and Kevin Maggs return to the threequarter line with Dave Hilton, Andy Long and Ben Sturnham up front. Jon Preston, their new recruit from All Black country, is included on the bench.