Rugby Union: Probyn set to collect record

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The Independent Online
A RECORD 37th cap for Jeff Probyn, a cock sparrow but definitely not spring chicken of a prop, when England play Ireland in Dublin next Saturday reminds the selectors that the time for thoroughgoing change is nearly upon them.

Yesterday's unaltered selection means Probyn, 37 next month, will exceed the props' record Gary Pearce established between 1979 and '91. Probyn's have come more quickly, since 1987 in fact - not bad when you consider that Pearce, who plays on for Northampton, is less than two months older than the East End furniture-maker.

Probyn has a Lions New Zealand tour place to claim and has declared no intention of retiring but the selectors have already shown their hand by choosing Victor Ubogu at tight head for the two autumn internationals. In any event, with or without Probyn next season Jon Webb, Wade Dooley and Peter Winterbottom will be non-starters.

All four are England record- holders for their positions, so the gaps will take some filling - but now is not yet the time. 'This match is not regarded as relevant in terms of building for next season,' Geoff Cooke, the team manager, said after yesterday's training session at Twickenham. 'We have identified the replacements we'll need for players who retire.'

However, Steve Ojomoh, who appeared to have been identified as Winterbottom's open-side successor, is back at No 8 - to Dean Richards's exclusion - for Friday's A match in Dublin. Neil Back, whom Cooke considers too diminutive, returns on one flank and John Hall as captain on the other.

France wrote a historical footnote at the weekend when they chose an unchanged team to play Wales in Paris next Saturday. It would have been only the second time France, title favourites because of their superior points difference to England's, had gone a championship with their starting line-up but their plans were ruined when Didier Camberabero broke a bone in his hand playing for Beziers yesterday. Franck Mesnel comes off the bench to replace him.

ENGLAND (v Ireland, Lansdowne Road, 20 March): J Webb (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); S Barnes (Bath), 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), R Andrew (Wasps), S Bates (Wasps), V Ubogu (Bath), J Olver (Northampton), T Rodber (Northampton).

ENGLAND A (v Ireland A, Donnybrook, 19 March): P Hull (Bristol); S Hackney (Leicester), S Potter (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), M Dawson (Northampton); C Clark (Swansea), K Dunn (Wasps), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall (Bath, capt), S Ojomoh (Bath), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: N Beal (Northampton), P Grayson (Waterloo), K Bracken (Bristol), M Hynes (Orrell), R Cockerill (Leicester), M Greenwood (Wasps).

Neil Francis, the Blackrock College lock, fills the vacancy left on Ireland's bench against England.

The England forwards Brian Moore and Jason Leonard, plus the lock Alex Snow, have been severely reprimanded by the Middlesex union for wearing illegal studs during Harlequins' Pilkington Cup quarter-final win at Waterloo last month.