Rugby Union: Probyn back to face French

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JEFF PROBYN was the one old stager the England selectors chose voluntarily to do without, but the attempt to move on a generation was abandoned yesterday. The 36- year-old prop has been recalled to succeed his successor Victor Ubogu, a stripling of 28, and win his 34th cap against France at Twickenham on 16 January.

It will be five years to the day since his debut, in Paris. If he retains his regained place, Probyn will have 37 caps by the time he is 37 in April, one more than Gary Pearce's present record for an England prop. The Londoner's return acknowledges the conspicuous longevity of those considered veterans even when England were reaching the World Cup final 14 months ago.

In descending order, Wade Dooley plays on at 35, Mike Teague at 33 and Peter Winterbottom at 32 in search of a triple Grand Slam. Which only goes to show what modern methods, including the current training weekend in Lanzarote, can do for you.

In Teague's case, the return to fitness after a severe shoulder injury won him his old place on the flank against South Africa in November and now, in the finest shape of a long career, he has seen off the resurgent John Hall as well.

One can only presume what Hall's condition would have been had his career not been incessantly interrupted by knee injuries but Lanzarote, with its ruthless testing regime, was specifically intended to push him and what he called his 'old man's knee' to the limit.

'Mike is the man in possession and playing well,' Geoff Cooke, the England manager, said yesterday. 'He played in a winning team against the Springboks and we saw no pressing need to make a change.'

Teague's brute strength, in fact, perfectly complements Hall's rangy Bath No 8 colleague, Ben Clarke, and he also happens to have been the fastest sprinting forward over the weekend after Ubogu. The ousted prop, has, however, lost out on scrummaging grounds even though Cooke recently stressed the dwindling importance of the scrum.

The only other change brings Ian Hunter's return on the right wing, where he would have appeared against South Africa but for a freak training accident which allowed Tony Underwood back in. Hunter, the Northampton full- back, will definitely not be playing kick-about football in the next fortnight.

The unlucky Underwood (two caps) can blame brother Rory (56) for rescinding his decision to retire. No Underwood, Dean Richards, Hall, Ubogu . . . the list is lengthening. 'Other countries,' Cooke said, 'would give a lot to have the players we have left out.' And perhaps the Lions, too, in New Zealand next summer.

Ireland is undoubtedly one of the countries to which Cooke was referring. The Oxford University stand-off, Niall Malone, 21, is one of two new caps named last night to face Scotland at Murrayfield. Malone had two fine tries in his 18 points as the Probables beat the Possibles 38-10 in yesterday's Irish trial.

The 30-year-old lock Richard Costello, who toured New Zealand last summer without reaching the Test side, is the other newcomer, with Michael Bradley superceding Phil Danaher as captain. Ireland contain 14 of the Probables, plus Brian Robinson, who must prove his fitness for London Irish next weekend, and 10 of those beaten 42-17 by Australia two months ago.

ENGLAND (v France, Twickenham, 16 January): J Webb (Bath); I Hunter (Northampton), J Guscott (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), M Bayfield (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), M Teague (Moseley), B Clarke (Bath), P Winterbottom (Harlequins). Replacements: P de Glanville (Bath), S Barnes (Bath), S Bates (Wasps), V Ubogu (Bath), J Olver (Northampton), T Rodber (Northampton).

IRELAND (v Scotland, Murrayfield, 16 January): J Staples; S Geoghegan (London Irish), V Cunningham (St Mary's College), P Danaher, R Wallace (Garryowen); N Malone (Oxford University), M Bradley (Constitution, capt); N Popplewell (Greystones), S Smith (Ballymena), P McCarthy (Constitution), P Johns (Dungannon); R Costello (Garryowen), P Lawlor (Bective Rangers), B Robinson (London Irish), D McBride (Malone).

Scottish shortcomings, page 20