Woodward fears for Tigers' trial

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The Independent Online

Clive Woodward is far too self-assured a character to crave sympathy from the public, but you have to feel for the poor bloke all the same. A mere fortnight shy of a highly significant Test with the Springboks at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld stadium, that heavily fortified stronghold of Afrikaner machismo, several of his least dispensable red rose personnel are preparing to knock seven bells out of each other in a cele-bration match that borders on the meaningless.

Clive Woodward is far too self-assured a character to crave sympathy from the public, but you have to feel for the poor bloke all the same. A mere fortnight shy of a highly significant Test with the Springboks at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld stadium, that heavily fortified stronghold of Afrikaner machismo, several of his least dispensable red rose personnel are preparing to knock seven bells out of each other in a cele-bration match that borders on the meaningless.

Tomorrow's encounter between Leicester, the Premiership champions, and perhaps the most potent Barbarians line-up of the professional era is likely to attract 50,000 spectators to Twickenham. Good news for the sport? No doubt. It is even better news for the treasury department of the Rugby Football Union, which needs every brass farthing it can lay hands on if the RFU is to cough up £1.8m per Premiership club before the start of next season. But England's chances of making a decent fist of things on the highveld will not be helped one iota if Lawrence Dallaglio, Matt Perry, Jason Leonard or the odd Tiger - Martin Johnson, say, or Neil Back - prang themselves in the cause of extra-curricular entertainment.

Understandably, Dean Richards feels he owes it to the Tigers' travelling support to field a representative side. If the Leicester manager did otherwise against a Baa-Baas outfit boasting Thomas Castaignÿde, Joeli Vidiri and Viliame Satala out wide, plus a tight fiveconsisting of a Springbok front row and an All Black engine room, the consequences might be too grim to contemplate. That, however, will not prevent Woodward feeling exasperated at the thought of so many of his big names risking injury at so sensitive a time.

Austin Healey, so central to England's new-fangled style of running rugby, is 99 per cent certain to miss the match, thanks to a twisted ankle. Most of the other front-line Tigers are in the frame, however, and while Johnson and Will Greenwood are far from exhausted after Premiership campaigns, the likes of Back and Corry are in dire need of a rest. Once again, English rugby finds itself unable to reconcile player welfare with sporting economics. If something has to give, better the poor bloody infantry than the bank balance.

On a positive note - from Leicester's perspective - the chances of Carlos Spencer spending the next few seasons at Welford Road are looking ever better. The erratically brilliant All Black stand-off was yesterday omitted from the New Zealand Maori squad preparing for their forthcoming "Test" with Scotland after failing to show up for training. Sources said Spencer had completed his negotiations with Richards and was now awaiting any counter-bid from the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

Meanwhile, Argentina named Agustin Pichot, the Bristol scrum-half, as Puma captain for this evening's full international with Ireland in Buenos Aires. Pichot, who has little leadership experience, was a surprise; the smart money had been on the former Puma Under-19 and Under-21 captain Santiago Phelan, who plays on the flank tonight. "I also thought Phelan would be captain," said Pichot. "He's the best captain I've ever played under."

The Argentinians field 11 of the side who ejected the Irish from last autumn's World Cup by winning a quarter-final play-off match in Lens. The back-line changes are at right wing, where Octavio Bartolucci replaces Gonzalo Camardon, and at centre, where the impressively named Juan de la Cruz Fernandez Miranda, takes over from Lisandro Arbizu. Up front, Martin Scelzo of Northampton plays instead of Omar Hasan at tight-head, while a second Saint, Federico Mendez, resumes at hooker for Mario Ledesma. Mendez, therefore, goes head to head with his one serious rival for the title of "world's best", Keith Wood, for the second time in seven days.

Perhaps the most influential signing of the week was completed yesterday by the lowest-profile side in the Premiership. Sale, enjoying the financial fruits of new ownership and keen to put two seasons of under-achievement behind them, announced that Glenn Ross, a former Super 12 coach with the Highlanders who also had spells at Northampton and Connacht, will take charge at Heywood Road next season.

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