Hill earns moment in sun as England captain

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The Independent Online

The fact that Richard Hill is still on his feet while many veterans of England's demanding World Cup campaign are in the care of their surgeons is not entirely to the credit of the outstanding Saracens flanker; after all, he played only two full games in Australia - the semi-final against France and the final against the Wallabies. It would be scandalous to label him a glory hunter, for Hill gets through more work in 80 minutes than some of his flashier peers manage in a career, but he was in no danger of collapsing with exhaustion when he returned to London.

His relatively good state of health has earned him another moment in the sun. Thanks to a rib injury suffered by Phil Vickery, the Gloucester prop - not to mention the absences of Martin Johnson, Neil Back, Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Leonard and Matthew Dawson - the man who prefers to say precisely nothing before and during big international occasions will lead an England XV in the non-cap match with the New Zealand Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, could certainly have chosen worse. Hill may be able to walk through 95 per cent of rugby club bars without being recognised, but he remains one of the very few players of this red-rose generation never to have been dropped from the Test side. Some describe him as the glue that holds the England pack together, others call him the cement between the bricks. Now, he gets to lead England out in front of a full house. No one is more deserving of the honour.

Fortunately for Hill, he came out of yesterday's exercise in human horsetrading well ahead of the game. Among the four players who dropped out of the squad through injury - Iain Balshaw, Lewis Moody, Michael Worsley and Vickery - only the latter started the final in Sydney. Of the four called up in their stead - Ben Cohen, Trevor Woodman, Martin Corry and the exciting front-rower from Bath, Matt Stevens - both Cohen and Woodman played the whole 100 minutes against Australia.

Stevens, born 21 years ago in South Africa but very much in the thoughts of the England hierarchy, should start on Saturday - he is the only specialist tight-head prop in the party, and an afternoon's work-out against the formidable former All Black, Craig Dowd, will accelerate his development by a very considerable degree. The other uncapped prop in the squad, Andy Sheridan of Sale, plays his club rugby at loose-head, and will probably be introduced off the bench.

Scotland made three announcements yesterday: the first concerning a 44-man training squad featuring 14 uncapped players; the second confirming that James McLaren, Glenn Metcalfe and Gregor Townsend had called it a day on the international front; and the third signalling a decisive shift away from selecting exiles for Tests.

This last was the most significant. "I firmly believe Scotland's players should be playing in Scotland," said the new head coach, Matt Williams, who happens to be an Australian. "If a player leaves Scotland, it is my intention to say that he also leaves the national team. Sure, we're going to face difficult decisions on this, but we have to bite the bullet because we must have control of our own players."

Quite how Williams plans to sell his plan to the likes of Jason White, the influential back-row forward who joined Sale from Glasgow only last summer and was one of 15 World Cup players selected from non-Scottish clubs, is anyone's guess.

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