England v Barbarians: Paice and Hartley put forward credentials

Two Antipodeans are fighting for a place in the Red Rose front line to face New Zealand
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The Independent Online

There will be a hint of exhibitionism at England's match against the Barbarians today, not least surrounding the hookers' convention, in which three players will be particularly keen to show a leg and catch the unsuspecting eye of the Twickenham punters, not to mention the Red Rose selectors.

David Paice of London Irish, an Australian, starts as the number one No 2 and is understudied by Northampton's Dylan Hartley, a New Zealander, who is expected to put in an appearance. Opposing them will be an English hooker, Mark Regan, who captains the Barbarians on what will almost certainly be his last appearance at Twickenham.

Regan has 46 caps, which is 46 more than Paice and Hartley. "Ronnie" says he is still available should England require his services, but he is not holding his breath. The 36-year-old, who was England's first choice at the World Cup in France last year, has 12 months left on his contract at Bristol, at the end of which he is likely to look at a coaching role. Meanwhile Paice and Hartley, thoroughly modern and dynamic hookers, have the two-Test trip to New Zealand to look forward to, along with Bath's Lee Mears.

Hartley, who was born in Rotorua, was in line for selection to last autumn's World Cup squad when his world spun off its axis. He was banned for 26 weeks for gouging in a Premiership match against Wasps in April last year. The severity of the sentence is explained by Hartley attacking the "eye area" of two players, Jonny O'Connor and James Haskell. The ban could have been even longer, but he was found not guilty of gouging Joe Worsley. Hartley's "good character" and "youth" were taken into consideration.

"There is a physicality and an aggression in his play that we need in English rugby," John Wells, England's forwards coach, said. "He has matured, personally and as a player, and he has not been involved in anything like the trouble he was caught up in at the back end of last season. With Dylan and David we have two talented hookers on our hands. The thing now is to see how they make the step from club rugby to England level."

It promises to be an interesting journey (England fly to New Zealand tomorrow) for the southern-hemisphere players. Paice, who was born in Darwin, started playing the sport for Souths RFC in Brisbane at Under-14 level. From Brisbane State High School he graduated to the Queensland Schoolboys team, but then the trail went cold. At 19, he decided to travel, and when he took a casual job at a pub in Richmond in south-west London a chance conversation led to his conversion.

He was invited to play a game at Sunbury, and he made such an impact that he won a place at the London Irish academy. In his first season he was a member of the Under-19 team who won the national colts cup. A senior contract soon followed.

Paice has genuine pace, and his try against Hartley's Northampton Saints in February 2006 earned him the club's "try of the season" award. He has continued to progress, and when he was selected for the England Saxons he had an important decision to make: which countryshould he opt for?

Apart from Australia, he was also eligible for Scotland, his mother's homeland. He chose England on the basis that they had given him the opportunity to develop his career. He played for the Saxons in the 2006 and 2007 Churchill Cup tournaments and this year scored tries against Scotland and Ireland A.

Rob Andrew, England's elite rugby director, who has taken centre stage until Martin Johnson assumes command on 1 July, selected the side for the runabout with the Baa-Baas and, shorn of players from Leicester, Wasps and Bath, he was not exactly spoilt for choice.

Paice is one of six uncapped players who will start and there are only three survivors from the World Cup: Nick Easter, the No 8 who will captain the side, and the centres Mathew Tait and Toby Flood.

In the absence of Danny Cipriani and Jonny Wilkinson, Charlie Hodgson has the chance to resurrect his Test career and spark a back line that looks full of running. As far as Paice is concerned, the quicker the better.

England: M Brown (Harlequins); T Ojo (London Irish), M Tait (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), D Strettle (Harlequins); C Hodgson (Sale), R Wigglesworth (Sale); N Lloyd (Saracens), D Paice (London Irish), J Hobson (Bristol), C Jones (Sale Sharks), N Kennedy (London Irish), L Narraway (Gloucester), W Skinner (Harlequins), N Easter (Harlequins, capt). Replacements: D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Newcastle), S Hooper (Leeds), T Guest (Harlequins), D Care (Harlequins), P Richards (London Irish), U Monye (Harlequins).

Barbarians: T Delport (Worcester); G Thomas (Cardiff Blues), M Turinui (Queensland), S Mapusua (London Irish), I Balshaw (Gloucester); S Larkham (unattached), A Gomarsall (Harlequins); F Pucciariello (Munster), M Regan (Bristol, capt), C Visagie (Saracens), K Chesney (Saracens), J Harrison (Ulster), J Collins (unattached), M Molitika (Cardiff Blues), P Wannenburg (Blue Bulls). Replacements: S Bruno (Sale), P Collazo (Gloucester), S Dellape (Biarritz), D Croft (ACT Brumbies, M Claassens (Bath), G Jackson (Saracens), J Pretorius (Lions).

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).

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