Ruck and Maul: England have a mountain to climb if they want to steal the silverware

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The Independent Online

Silversmiths are not immune to the chill winds of recession, but one market is providing them with a winter warmer. Rugby's cupboard is full to overflowing. Yesterday England and New Zealand played for the Hillary Shield, which was presented to the winners by Lady June Hillary, widow of Sir Edmund. It's a handsome silver plate with Edmund's face in the middle, behind which is etched an image of Mount Everest. In 100 years' time it will probably be as famous as the Calcutta Cup, the magnificent trophy over which English and Scottish blood is spilled. Pride of place in the cabinet goes to the Webb Ellis Cup, which is held by the world champions, and the All Blacks and the Wallabies go bonkers over the Bledisloe Cup. Wales and South Africa now play for the Prince William Cup; the Springboks and the Wallabies go for the Mandela Challenge Plate; and England and Ireland vie for the Millennium Trophy. As for Wales and Australia, they compete for the James Bevan Trophy (named after the first captain of Wales, who happened to be born in Australia), while the English and the Aussies turn up the heat for the Cook Cup. Forgetting the Triple Crown, Scotland and Ireland go head to head for the Centenary Quaich, and when the Lions play the Wallabies they do so for the Tom Richards Cup. For the what? Get a grip. Tom was the man who played for both the Lions and Australia. There is more. Romania and Georgia bust a gut for the Antim Cup, named after an 18th-century bishop of Bucharest, and Italy and France vie for the Garibaldi Trophy, which just about takes the biscuit. The Hillary Shield, by the way, was crafted by the Englishman Thomas Silver. Was this man born with a silver spoon in his mouth? All that remains now is for Nepal to run with the ball. Mr Silver could set about designing the Sherpa Tenzing Bowl.

English sheepish over Kiwis

Graham Henry, the All Blacks coach, pointed out that England – sheepskin-clad, hipflask-swigging, overbearing England – have a million players and little New Zealand only 140,000. The Red Rose party would be better off, he said, if they stopped recruiting all those Kiwis. He didn't mention anything about New Zealand recruiting all those Pacific Islanders, but that's another story. The Premiership responded by saying there had been a negligible increase in the number of imports. This season the English presence was 62 per cent and in 1996-97, "the season before the Premiership", the figure was 64 per cent. They are, however, being selective with their statistics. In 1996, the first open season in England, the signing of overseas players became fashionable. Twelve months earlier, squads had been almost entirely English. In 1995-96, Bath had 14 Englishmen and Andy Nicol; Leicester had 14 Englishmen and Niall Malone.

t.glover@independent.co.uk

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