Rugby union: Sullivan set to start at the top

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The Independent Online
WALES HAVE spent most of the last decade performing as though the game of rugby union is a complete mystery to them, so Anthony Sullivan will feel perfectly at home if he makes an extraordinary 15-a-side debut against the world champion Springboks on Saturday week. The tantalising prospect of Sullivan's instant rise to Red Dragonhood emerged yesterday when Graham Henry, the national coach, named him in a 25-man party to prepare for the Wembley Test.

Late last month, Sullivan was still earning his bread as a highly rated St Helens wing; he has yet to start a game for his new employers, Cardiff, and Henry has seen him play only on television. All the same, he has been invited to compete with the two Llanelli wings, Garan Evans and Wayne Proctor, for a place in the final 22 to face the South Africans.

Evans performed outstandingly in the Scarlets' famous European Cup victory over Stade Francais on Saturday when Proctor had been struggling with injury, so the door is at least ajar. Sullivan has two club games in which to stake his claim before Henry makes his decisive selection call next Monday.

The coach was in London last night to lend moral support to his first choice No 8, Scott Quinnell, who was up before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee following his sending-off during Richmond's match at Wasps three weeks ago.

Quinnell was dismissed by Brian Campsall, the international referee, for an alleged late and dangerous tackle on Lawrence Dallaglio, the England captain, but Richmond officials were confident of winning an acquittal.

One way or another, the discipline issue is following Henry around like a bad smell. Mark Jones, the Ebbw Vale lock who caused the national outcry by punching his Pontypridd rival, Ian Gough, into a hospital ward earlier this season, was one of four second rows named in yesterday's party. But the coach once again felt it necessary to warn him that any future dismissal would render him an international outcast.

Rob Howley, perhaps the best scrum-half in the world, retains the captaincy awarded him last season and he will partner his 1997 Lions colleague, Neil Jenkins, at Wembley. Allan Bateman's recent shoulder surgery gives Mark Taylor an even-money chance of joining his Swansea clubmate Scott Gibbs in midfield while Pontypridd's complementary flankers, Geraint Lewis and Martyn Williams, are expected to start in the back row.

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