Probyn waits in the wings for Saracens

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If Saracens shifted truckloads of season tickets on the strength of Thomas Castaignÿde spearheading a determined assault on the Heineken Cup, it is safe to say that no one spent a brass farthing in the expectation of seeing the venerable Mr Jeffrey Probyn, a 44-year-old member of the Rugby Football Union "old farts" brigade, shoring up one side of a crumbling front row in the hostile surroundings of Ravenhill or Cardiff Arms Park.

If Saracens shifted truckloads of season tickets on the strength of Thomas Castaignÿde spearheading a determined assault on the Heineken Cup, it is safe to say that no one spent a brass farthing in the expectation of seeing the venerable Mr Jeffrey Probyn, a 44-year-old member of the Rugby Football Union "old farts" brigade, shoring up one side of a crumbling front row in the hostile surroundings of Ravenhill or Cardiff Arms Park.

Yesterday, however, Saracens ventured boldly into the realms of the barely imaginable. Should they lose another couple of front-rowers to injury - and the heavy-duty merchants are going down like ninepins at the moment - dear old Jeff will indeed be zimmer-framed out to do battle with his youngers and betters. François Pienaar, the Saracens selector-in-chief, publicly confirmed that he had approached Probyn. More remarkable still, he managed to keep a straight face in the process. No, he was not making it all up.

Yes, Jeff had agreed to step in if required. And no, Fran Cotton was definitely not next in line for a summons to arms.

Pienaar has until noon today to finalise his front-row reinforcements for the Heineken Cup pool stage - a task he has so far found impossible, thanks to the presence of two props, Julian White and Luke Harbut, on the casualty list. "We thought we could get through with what we had, but we didn't anticipate Julian and Luke going down virtually simultaneously," said the former Springbok. "English clubs operate under a salary cap: if any club can afford to contract 10 front-rowers under the existing financial restrictions, I'd like to ask them how they do it. We can't take a player on loan because of the tournament regulations, so we're scratching around for alternatives."

Richard Harry, the World Cup-winning Wallaby loose head who recently retired from top-flight rugby, was one possibility; two Springboks, Os de Randt and Dawie Theron, were also on Pienaar's very short shortlist. For one reason or another, none were up for it. Hence the call to Probyn, who won 37 red rose caps as a born-awkward tight head between 1988 and 1993 and was playing serious Tetley's Bitter Cup rugby for Barking as recently as two seasons ago. "There's no great likelihood of Jeff being needed; I'd say he was fifth or sixth choice," said Pienaar. "But if circumstances conspire against us and we need him to play the last 20 against Cardiff at the end of the month, he's said he'll be happy to help out."

Saracens will require rather more than 20 minutes from Castaignÿde, of course, especially this weekend when the bottle-blond imp of French rugby scuttles back across the Channel to take on his old confrÿres from Toulouse.

"It will be an emotional day; I spent nine years of my life there," said the full-back yesterday. "I played with so many of those who will now be against me: Califano, Belot, Cazalbou, Ougier. I have had emails from them, phone calls too. Emile Ntamack was on the phone for half an hour. From a Saracens point of view, I am relieved Emile is not playing. I respect Emile as a man, as a special rugby person."

While Pienaar happily named the side who dismantled Bath at the Recreation Ground last weekend, Northampton, the champions, received the latest of many smacks in the teeth when they lost a third outside-half to injury. Mark Tucker, a young stand-in for Paul Grayson and Ali Hepher, dislocated a shoulder while training for this weekend's trip to Biarritz. If Grayson fails to recover from groin trouble, Allan Bateman may be press-ganged into service from outside centre.

England, meanwhile, added the Gloucester scrum-half Andy Gomarsall and the Leicester front-rowers Darren Garforth and Dorian West to their 30-man squad for the autumn internationals at Twickenham. Two of those games, against Australia and South Africa, were sold out without any tickets being placed on general sale.

Comments