Rugby Union: Wembley evangelism

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The Independent Online
THE resistance of rugby traditionalists being what it is, only 10,000 of the 78,000 tickets available for England's game with Canada at Wembley on 17 October have been sold. The South Africa match, back at Twickenham a month later, is 10-times oversubscribed.

Yesterday Wembley Stadium plc and the Rugby Football Union set about the evangelism needed if the England players are not to be confronted by empty terraces as well as the Canucks. It was not a great success.

For one thing their press conference was called with scarcely any notice. More importantly, the photo-opportunity supposed to be its centrepiece was rendered meaningless when none of the 33 members of the England squad turned up. Perhaps the organisers, used to professional sportsmen at Wembley, forgot that these lads had a living to earn.

The RFU has gone to Wembley so that the rebuilding of Twickenham's East Stand should not be interrupted. There will be 52,000 squeezed in to see the Springboks on 14 November. Unlike at Twickenham, tickets for Wembley are open to all, providing a one-off opportunity for the general public to see an England team whose recent unprecedented success has included successive Grand Slams and the final of the World Cup.

The Canadians reached new heights when they reached the World Cup quarter-final, in which they worried New Zealand. 'They have emerged as a formidable side,' Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, said. More arguable was his contention that 'they fancy their chances of taking England apart'.

This will be the first rugby union international to be held under the Twin Towers. Wembley plc and Molson, the Canadian brewer sponsoring the match, hope the 7,000-capacity Wembley car park will replicate the atmosphere of its Twickenham equivalent.

But of greater importance to the players, who promise to be there on 17 October, is that rugby followers attend in sufficient numbers to make Wembley a home from home for a day. 'Support from the Twickenham loyalists has been a very important factor in our home wins over the last couple of years,' Dick Best, the England coach, said.

The French selectors yesterday signalled their readiness to recall all those who were controversially omitted from the summer tour to Argentina when they announced their choices for the provincial matches against South Africa.

Pierre Berbizier, the coach, had made it clear all along that the senior men left behind would be in contention to face the Springboks, but that did not prevent resentment from the supporters of threequarters Franck Mesnel, Jean-Baptiste Lafond and last season's captain, Philippe Sella.

So although France comfortably won the two Tests in Buenos Aires, Berbizier has been as good as his word. Mesnel, who has been back in form for Racing Club, has been chosen to bolster France B in Bordeaux on 3 October. Lafond, who has left Racing for Begles, and Sella will play for Aquitaine in Pau four days later.

These three have every chance of appearing in the first Test at Lyon on 17 October, as do the forwards Gregoire Lascube, Olivier Roumat and Abdelatif Benazzi - all suspended from the tour - who have been restored with Sella and Lafond. Vincent Moscato, like Lascube suspended after being sent off against England in February, is still excluded. He is now in dispute with his club, Begles.

Mike Griffiths, the Cardiff prop sent off against Aberavon on 5 September for allegedly kicking an opponent, was immediately restored to the Wales squad yesterday after being reprieved by the Welsh Rugby Union. Griffiths had produced video evidence to support him at a personal hearing before the WRU's disciplinary committee.