Rugby Union: Probyn's taste for London pride

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The Independent Online
LOVE or hate the Divisional Championship, this season its purpose is specific and immediate: to pick divisional teams followed finally by an England team to face New Zealand, writes Steve Bale.

At any rate this is how the England selectors would see it, a series of trials starting today with the North v London at Newcastle and South-West v Midlands at Bath and continuing next Saturday when the All Blacks open their tour against London at Twickenham.

One old campaigner has a different idea, however. When Jeff Probyn, 37 caps and 37 years of age, was dropped from the England squad he was told his route had now to be via the divisionals. He does not believe it. 'Being named for London doesn't make any difference in England terms,' he said.

In fact England's most-capped prop believes the team, or his part of it anyway, is already as good as chosen. As Probyn has been preferred by London to one squad tight head, Andy Mullins, his presumption is that another, Victor Ubogu, will displace him.

'I am a realist when it comes to international selection; the best players aren't always picked,' Probyn said, drawing on personal experience. 'I believe I'm playing for personal pride in London's front row.'

Not everyone takes as much pride in divisional rugby. The South- West won the title last season after years of failure and even now it is a safe bet that their motivation against the Midlands will have more to do with the All Blacks than with the new CIS trophy.

The All Blacks will arrive on Monday with Arran Pene and Jamie Joseph, the Otago loose forwards who played in the decisive third Test against the Lions in July, lucky - by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union's own admission - to be free to play from the start of the tour.

Both were cited under the NZRFU's draconian disciplinary procedure for punching Auckland's Jason Chandler in the National Championship final after Chandler had attacked the third Otago breakaway, Josh Kronfeld. Chandler was sent off and suspended for a week, whereas Pene and Joseph were let off with a reprimand to spare them the attentions of the 'foreign media'.

Of this there is now no chance. 'We would normally take the view that actions of the kind Pene and Joseph were guilty of would warrant suspension for one or two matches,' Bruce Squire, the NZRFU disciplinary chairman, said yesterday. 'Having the All Blacks embarking on their tour with two of their members under suspension will do nothing for team morale and will provide a focus and diversion for the foreign media.' Not so draconian, after all.

NORTH: I Hunter (Northampton); J Mallender (Sale), K Simms (Liverpool St Helens, capt), M Fielden (Northampton), J Sleightholme (Wakefield); P Grayson (Northampton), D Scully (Wakefield); M Hynes (Orrell), G French (Orrell), S McMain (Sheffield), J Dixon (West Hartlepool), D Baldwin (Sale), T Rodber (Northampton), A MacFarlane (Sale), N Ashurst (Orrell).

LONDON: H Davies (Wasps); T Underwood (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), W Carling, D O'Leary (Harlequins); R Andrew (capt), S Bates (Wasps); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn Wasps), A Snow, R Langhorn (Harlequins), M Greenwood, D Ryan, L Dallaglio (Wasps).

Referee: E Murray (Greenock).

SOUTH-WEST: J Callard; A Adebayo, P de Glanville (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), A Lumsden; M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol); C Clark (Oxford University), G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman (Bath), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall (capt), S Ojomoh, A Robinson (Bath).

MIDLANDS: S Hodgkinson (Moseley); S Hackney, S Potter, I Bates (Leicester), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), J Olver (Northampton), D Garforth (Leicester), J Phillips (Northampton), S Lloyd (Moseley), C Barrow (Bristol), D Richards (capt), N Back (Leicester).

Referee: D Matthews (St Helens).