Rugby Union: Rowell sends Hill into the England fray

The long shadow of domestic rugby politics hung heavily over the Five Nations' Championship once again yesterday. Rank and file supporters are beginning to suspect that it might be easier to sort out the future of Hebron than solve the tedious conflict between Twickenham and its insubordinate senior clubs.

For Richard Hill of Saracens, however, it was a red letter day all the same. The 23-year-old open-side flanker from Surrey will win his first cap for England against the Scots in the Calcutta Cup match on Saturday week. He first announced his rich potential as a pupil at Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury and if his emergence puts to an end the frustrating search for a long-term successor to the great Peter Winterbottom, we can expect to see Jack Rowell, the national coach, sinking to his knees in the middle of Cathedral Close and reciting a prayer of thanksgiving.

England have been hunting high and low for a fast, muscular and physically imposing breakaway since "Winters" packed it in almost four years ago and, at 6ft 2in and very nearly 16st, Hill has the right dimensions. Whether he has the mental hardness to survive at Test level, only time will tell. At least he has the opportunity to find out. In theory, that is. Reports that the big white chiefs from Epruc, the umbrella organisation representing clubs in the top two divisions of the Courage League, were renewing their threat to withhold players from international duty in the absence of a final agreement on decision-making procedures in the new professional game removed some of the shine from Rowell's announcement of a new-look side.

However, Charles Levison, the senior Wasps committee man who has negotiated on behalf of Epruc in recent months, said yesterday that the Domesday scenario was extremely remote. "Nothing is being threatened," he insisted. "We were concerned that the documentation we received at the beginning of the month did not reflect what had been agreed between the two sides in December, but we had a constructive meeting with the Rugby Football Union last Thursday and we expect to iron everything out this week."

Rugby's version of the bush telegraph had suggested that the only way Will Carling would face the Scots would be if every other half-decent centre in the country was ordered by his club to stay at home. As usual, the reports of Carling's demise were seriously premature; for the fourth time this season, Rowell has preferred his former captain to his former protege, Jeremy Guscott - a decision that will be greeted with bemusement well beyond the narrow confines of Bath, where Guscott was canonised years ago.

Carling will play at outside centre - a position in which his suspect passing will be less exposed - with Phil de Glanville returning, as captain, alongside him. Rowell admitted that de Glanville's position had been as much under revision as everyone else's in the aftermath of last month's shambles against Argentina, but said he was reassured by reports from the Recreation Ground, where Bath put 50 points on Northampton on Sunday.

Two other Bath backs were not so fortunate; as expected, Mike Catt's inability to do the simple things anywhere near as well as he does the difficult ones means a recall for the goalkicking Paul Grayson - "Mike will develop, possibly as a centre," Rowell said - while Adedayo Adebayo, fit again after concussion, has failed to shift Tony Underwood from the left-wing berth.

Other changes see Tim Stimpson return at full-back - one of the easiest decisions confronting the selectors - and two positional switches in the back row. Lawrence Dallaglio shifts to his club position of blind-side to make room for Hill, with Tim Rodber elbowing aside Chris Sheasby at No 8.

However, perhaps the most significant selection was buried among the replacements, where Austin Healey was named as reserve scrum-half. More talkative than Clive Anderson and marginally quicker than Linford Christie, the outstanding Leicester prospect finds himself promoted above Kyran Bracken, who, in turn, had been expected to replace Andy Gomarsall in the starting line-up.

Bracken is now out in the cold - or, at least, in the chilly surroundings of the England A team, who face the Scottish second-string at Harlequins a week on Friday. It is a sure sign of changing times; Healey, still a wing a couple of seasons back, may well be in the full England side by the end of the championship.

England team

v Scotland (at Twickenham, 1 February)

T Stimpson Newcastle

J Sleightholme Bath

W Carling Harlequins

P de Glanville Bath, capt

T Underwood Newcastle

P Grayson Northampton

A Gomarsall Wasps

G Rowntree Leicester

M Regan Bristol

J Leonard Harlequins

M Johnson Leicester

S Shaw Bristol

L Dallaglio Wasps

T Rodber Northampton

R Hill Saracens

Replacements: J Guscott (Bath), M Catt (Bath), A Healey (Leicester), D Garforth (Leicester), P Greening (Gloucester), B Clarke (Richmond).

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