Rugby Union: North are backed into corner

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The Independent Online
The North have made six changes to the side which beat Western Samoa for the Divisional Championship decider against the Midlands at Nottingham on Saturday.

The withdrawal of the full-back Tim Stimpson, wing Jim Naylor and centre Will Greenwood for the England A game against Western Samoa has forced a reshuffle in the backs. Jim Mallinder moves from the wing to replace Stimpson, with Sale's Chris Yates stepping in to make his debut and Austin Healey moving to the other wing from scrum-half.

Sale's Jos Baxendell makes his first senior appearance in place of Greenwood, while David Scully returns to scrum-half. The only forward change is at hooker, with Gary French coming in in place of Tim Herbert, who is relegated to the bench.

Swansea became the first club to secure a European Cup semi-final place when they narrowly defeated the French club Castres 22-10 at St Helen's on Tuesday. The Welsh club, needing a six-point margin to win the pool, accumulated a 19-7 lead at the interval. Three Aled Williams penalties were followed by a try from Alan Harris before Jean-Marc Aue scored a fine try for Castres that Cyril Savy converted - only for Garin Jenkins to score Swansea's second try.

Swansea increased their lead to 22-7 with a fourth Williams penalty and then the replacement lock Guy Jeannard was sent off after being on the field for just two minutes.

However, this only served to motivate the French side and, after Savy kicked a penalty to cut the deficit to 12 points, it needed just a converted try to win the group with seven minutes remaining. Castres crossed the Swansea line but were called back and the home side just survived in a frantic finish.

Natal, the provincial champions, and three other South African sides will take part in the Rugby Super 12 tournament beginning on 1 March. Along with Natal, the provincial sides Transvaal, Northern Transvaal and Western Province will represent South Africa against five teams from New Zealand and three from Australia.

The tournament replaces the Super 10 series and is part of a $550m (pounds 360m) television package involving the unions of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

The 12 teams will play each other once in a round-robin format, with the top four sides then advancing to semi-final matches. The championship will be played in the last weekend in May.

The five New Zealand sides, chosen on the basis of regional representation, will be Canterbury, Otago, Wellington, Auckland and Waikato. Australia's sides, chosen as the three best provinces, will be New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory.

The agreement, signed in June with Murdoch, gives News Corporation exclusive rights to broadcast all representative rugby union, including tour matches, involving the three nations until the year 2005. It was considered the final blow to amateurism in the game, which was under threat of losing its top players to rugby league.

Two months after the announcement of the agreement, the International Rugby Board loosened its restrictions on compensation for rugby union players.

North team v Midlands, Sporting Digest, page 31