Ruck and Maul: Yarde looks miles better but England U18s must Boks clever

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The Independent Online

England's proud record of 18 straight wins at Under-18 level will face a stiff test in South Africa this summer when the side coached by John Fletcher take on the junior Springboks, France and a second southern hemisphere country, either Australia or Argentina. Boldly, Fletcher set his side a target of four tries a match this season, and it was exceeded with 28 in six wins over Australia, France, Italy, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, to extend the victorious streak which stretches back to summer 2007. During the recent Grand Slam, the flying wing Marland Yarde bagged a four-timer against Scotland on Good Friday, two days after scoring a hat-trick at centre for Danny Cipriani's old school, Whitgift, in the Daily Mail RBS U18 Cup final at Twickenham. It all added up to 48 tries for the season for Yarde, who has been compared in style to Jerry Guscott and is joining London Irish full-time in July. "I'm looking forward to learning from Delon Armitage and Topsy Ojo," said Yarde. "The ultimate goal is to play for the full England team." If he keeps scoring at that rate, they might just have him.

Casey's in Lala-land

Newcastle Falcons host Cardiff Blues today in a quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup hoping to break a six-year duck and win a first 15-a-side trophy since the 2004 Powergen Cup. Mindful that their opponents are fielding an all-international starting line-up, no one on Tyneside is getting carried away with their prospects, but there is the considerable motivation of Heineken Cup qualification if Newcastle go all the way. This would, in turn, be likely to deprive the sixth-placed Guinness Premiership side of a Heineken berth, so the likes of Bath and Gloucester will be keeping one eye on Kingston Park. The pre-match banter for this Anglo-Welsh clash has had a Kiwi accent, with the Blues' former All Black centre Casey Laulala commenting that the loss of Newcastle's Toulon-bound prop Carl Hayman from New Zealand's 2011 World Cup effort wouldn't be nearly as costly as if fly-half Dan Carter was unavailable. Laulala chipped in for good measure in the 'Western Mail' that English clubs "think they are better than anyone else, but they're not that good". Pinch-of-salt stuff, maybe, but the Falcons have laminated a copy of Laulala's words to post on the home dressing room wall. Someone could end up in Lala-land.

Siberians in from the cold

More on the Siberian visitors to play Northampton's Wanderers tomorrow, flagged up in Ruck and Maul last week. This second visit by a Russian club to Franklin's Gardens – a year ago, VVA-Podmoskovye, the league champions, were in town – will bring Yenisei-STM in from the cold. Reporter Leon Addie informs us from Moscow that STM stands for SibTyazhMash, a machine-building factory which provided players during the club's formative years in the 1970s. Russian clubs are well-backed by regional governments and have large budgets, which is just as well when away trips often involve multiple flights and train journeys. "We want to move to a higher level, not only in an organisational sense, but on the playing side, too," says Yenisei-STM head coach Alexander Pervukhin. "Contacts with English rugby will contribute to this in every way. England has great rugby traditions, but Russia has serious rugby potential."

hughgodwin@yahoo.co.uk

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