Rugby Union: Richards rejigs for European rumble

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The Independent Online
DEAN RICHARDS was an upstanding member of the Leicestershire Constabulary for the first half of his working life and spent his entire sporting career extolling the virtues of 10-man rugby by tucking the ball up his jumper and slowing down every game to his own lolloping pace. But he is not quite the ultra-conservative icon his followers would have you believe. There is a radical streak lurking around in that huge frame of his, and it came to the surface yesterday when he gambled a fair stake of his reputation - not to mention his club's immediate Heineken Cup future - on a team selection that was not so much imaginative as downright brave.

Two former Wallabies, Pat Howard and John Welborn, have been dropped from the Leicester side for tomorrow's crucial Pool A rumble with Stade Francais, the Parisian club who should have won last season's title and are joint favourites to pocket the silverware this time around. In their stead will be Leon Lloyd, playing out of position at centre, and Ben Kay, a 23-year-old second row from Moseley who caught Deano's eye while everyone else was off watching the World Cup. What is more, Richards has resisted the temptation to play Austin Healey at scrum-half. The Leicester Lip, fit again after shoulder surgery, will appear in his England position of wing, thereby leaving the half-back duties to a pair of 19-year-old shavers, Andy Goode and James Grindal.

It would be a bold call for any Heineken Cup fixture. For this particular game, a must-win occasion for the Tigers after their botch-up against Leinster in Dublin a week ago, it is courageous in the extreme. The Frenchmen, coached perhaps for the last time by Bernard Laporte, who is about to take over the Tricolore reins from Jean-Claude Skrela, have fully-fledged international half-backs in Diego Dominguez and Christophe Laussucq, not to mention a threequarter line boasting Test caps in Thomas Lombard, Franck Comba and the brilliant Christophe Dominici.

Even though Richards has been deprived of two thirds of his front-row ABC club because of the neck conditions affecting Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth, he is clearly unwilling pick his "name" players on reputation alone. He wants Will Greenwood back in his optimum position of inside centre, hence Howard's demotion, and he wants some honest-to-goodness effort at the sharp end. The choice of Kay, lighter but taller than his Australian rival, makes Richards flavour of the week with Clive Woodward, the national coach, who will have the unexpected pleasure of watching 14 England-qualified Tigers when he joins the 13,000-plus throng at Welford Road.

It was not a great day for the international brigade on the other side of the Irish Sea, either. Dion O'Cuinneagain, the Irish captain, and Niall Malone, a former Test stand-off, were left out of the Ulster side for tonight's game with Wasps at Ravenhill as the European champions' coach, Harry Williams, reacted to last weekend's reverse in Bourgoin. Andy Ward, thought to be suffering from a fractured foot but clearly healthier than originally feared, relieves O'Cuinneagain of the open-side duties, while Bell resumes his midfield partnership with Jan Cunningham. "Our performance in Bourgoin wasn't as bad as people made out, but I was disappointed with our management of the game," explained Williams, who has also dropped Gary Longwell from the second row in favour of Mark Blair.

Down in All Black country, the fall-out from a third successive World Cup continued yesterday when Rob Fisher announced his intention to resign as chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. Fisher, who hopes to continue as a board member, admitted that his decision was influenced by the All Blacks' failure to bring home the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Jason Jones-Hughes, the Australian-born Wales centre, has been told he is ineligible to play for Newport in the European Shield. The Welsh Rugby Union informed the 23-year-old, who made his Wales debut in the World Cup, that he has missed 12 November closing date for registration.

Jones-Hughes joined Newport after he was finally released from his contracts by the Australian Rugby Union and New South Wales. Should Newport qualify from the group stages of the Shield then Jones-Hughes can be nominated by Newport as one of two new players eligible to play from the quarter- finals onwards.