Rugby World Cup: Tait and Arbizu given injury all-clear for Cup

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The Independent Online
AFTER THE silly season come the worry weeks. But like all bad things they come to an end. And a couple of major headaches were resolved yesterday when Argentina's captain, Lisandro Arbizu, and Scotland's Alan Tait, both centres, were declared fit for their respective sides' opening matches in the World Cup.

But Argentina's chief coach, Alex Wyllie, who yesterday named his side to face Wales on Friday, still has something to fret about: the kicking of Wales outside-half Neil Jenkins. Yesterday the former All Black said he had hammered into the skulls of his charges the threat posed by the Cardiff bootboy.

"When you have a player like Jenkins the opposition has to be extremely wary," explained Wyllie. "He is deadly. Argentina have a bit of a reputation for giving away vital penalties."

But the Pumas have been working on their discipline and, fortified with the fitness of Arbizu, are approaching the opening game of the World Cup with a degree of confidence. The team includes just eight members of the side which lost the second Test to Wales in June - the Welsh have won all three Tests against Argentina since last November.

The hooker Mario Ledesma and former captain Pedro Sporleder, who had both been suspended after an incident in a club match, were pardoned and reinstated in time for the World Cup and are in the team for Friday's curtain-raiser.

And a fortnight of worry has ended for Scotland. There had been fears that an ankle sprain picked up by dual-code international Tait during a World Cup warm-up match against Edinburgh Reivers earlier this month would rule him out of the tournament. But yesterday he was given the all- clear and is likely to be named in the Scotland team to face the defending champions, South Africa, at Murrayfield on Sunday, bringing a glittering career in rugby league and union full circle.

Tait, now 35, made his Scotland debut in the first World Cup in 1987 before switching to rugby league. Since his return to the 15-man game he has scored an impressive 16 tries in his 24 international appearances and one for the Lions in 1995. He also made 16 appearances for the Great Britain rugby league team in his nine years in the 13-man code.

Last season he played at outside centre and helped Scotland win the Five Nations' Championship. Now he is looking forward to Scotland's World Cup opener against the Springboks. "It is a massive game for us. Realistically winning the World Cup is probably beyond us, but if we get past the quarter- finals we will have done better than anyone has a right to expect."

And World Cup expectations are high across the water in Dublin, only this time on the financial front. The World Cup will inject more than pounds 40m into the Irish economy according to a survey commissioned by the Irish Rugby Football Union. The Republic anticipates an influx of some 40,000 rugby fans during the next three weeks.

Back in the real rugby world, where clubs are having to make do without their World Cup stars, Leicester have addressed their crisis at lock by signing Australian international second row John Welborn.

The 29-year-old who just missed out on the Wallabies World Cup squad has six caps, including two appearances in the recent Tri-Nations series.

Leicester, who have lost a total of 12 players to World Cup calls, have another couple of second rowers on the injury list and then Neil Fletcher was sent off at the weekend and faces a ban. So it is likely that Welborn will make his Tigers' debut at Gloucester in Friday's Allied Dunbar Premiership.

ARGENTINA (v Wales, World Cup, Group D, 1 Oct): M Contepomi; O Bartolucci, E Simone, L Arbizu (capt), D lbanese; G Quesada, A Pichot; G Longo, L Ostiglia, S Phelan, A Allub, P Sporleder, M Reggiardo, M Ledesma, R Grau.