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Sheep dressed

up as lamb

Sir: Alan Watkins appears to enjoy playing Cassandra to what he feels are England's over-inflated rugby aspirations, and sometimes not without reason, but his fellow countrymen must be disconcerted to read that he seems to be prepared to abandon the land of his fathers in favour of a "Celtic Nations XV". Perhaps he might be reminded that the populations of Wales and New Zealand are approximately equal.

JIM BURROWS

Lyme Regis, Dorset

Sir: France and Wales put on a terrific - if naive - show of running rugby in Paris at the weekend while Ireland and England served up some predictable and fairly dull fare in Dublin. It seems the only certainty emerging from this year's Five Nations is that October's World Cup will not be endangered by any of them.

FRANK THOMAS,

Chesterfield

Confused?

You will be

Sir: No one accused Mr Ron Noades of greed when he accepted the exceptionally generous pounds 23m offer from Mark Goldberg for Crystal Palace while still retaining ownership of the ground.

Goldberg desperately wanted the club, Noades knew it and rightly took advantage. That's good business. Mr Noades appears to be waiting in the wings to see if he can pick the club up at a bargain price.

Terry Venables was the man Goldberg desperately wanted as coach. Venables knew it and rightly asked for a generous package. Mark Goldberg agreed. More good business.

This seems to indicate that Mr Goldberg has more than a little to learn from Messrs Noades and Venables about life in the business jungle formerly known as football.

JASON CLARK

Carlisle

Sir: I'm confused. According to various media reports, Crystal Palace had debts of pounds 9million; a more recent report in your newspaper put the latest figure at pounds 20m.

If, as claimed, the club is showing a profit on transfers since Mr Goldberg's arrival, how can these figures be accurate? And if they are, can someone explain what the money was spent on?

GERRARD FLOOD

Purley, Surrey

High time for

a pantomime

Sir: This week a Briton stands an excellent chance of winning the undisputed world heavyweight title when Lennox Lewis fights Evander Holyfield. But the build-up to the fight is not what I would have expected and certainly nowhere close to the sort of coverage dear old Frank Bruno used to attract.

Could it be that because Lennox Lewis still talks with a Canadian accent and hasn't appeared in a pantomime that the British sporting public haven't taken to him? You can bet they will if he brings home the world title.

JOE SIMPSON

London

FA should send for the doctor

Sir: The recent problems over Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan led me to think about some more original and lateral thinking approaches to success in football. Not so long ago Dr Meredith Belbin blew a hole in the conventional approach to management team building and at Henley Staff College used to allow the resident staff to pick their best team for management games, and then he would screen the rest using his methods and pick an alternative team. His team nearly always won.

I think it would be very interesting to allow the new England manager to pick a squad and then allow Dr Belbin to chair a group of new thinkers to use psychological, sociometric and biometric tests to screen other players, some of whom might not even be playing League football. The new thinkers would then produce an alternative England team which would train together before taking on the conventional side. It would be a fascinating experiment to see which team won.

A J CASTON

Tervuren, Belgium

Stop the crocks

Sir: Once again our cricket selectors are in effect gambling by picking players subject to their fitness. Surely the lesson must be learned: to contemplate entering any competition with players whose fitness is suspect is at best risky, and, at worst, likely to result in failure, as has been shown before (in football as well as cricket).

There is no fitness test that adequately replicates actual playing conditions over a sustained period of competition, and to take chances with more than one potential crock beggars belief.

It isn't just the national team (and its fans) that suffer - spare a thought for players omitted or overlooked, who miss out on the chance to represent their country and the associated rewards. How galling it must be if they lose out to an injury-prone player who is then stricken by a recurrent injury. So please, selectors: think again before picking those whose fitness is suspect.

DAVID SHARP

Putney, London

Ref's red mist

Sir: Nowadays, it is not uncommon, justifiably or not, for football managers to criticise a referee's decision. No one likes to be criticised, not even the referees. This week, Paul Durkin was blasted by Alex Ferguson for sending off Paul Scholes.

On the face of it there was nothing unusual about this outburst. It happens week-in week-out in the Premiership. Except for one thing. There is a replay involved, which Durkin will take charge of.

Has Ferguson now ensured that Durkin will see the game through a red mist? And will any 50-50 referring decisions go in his teams favour ?

GARY JACOB

St Catherine's College,

Oxford

Not King Cole

Sir: Manchester United's win against Internazionale proved the perfect showcase for David Beckham's magnificent precision passing and Dwight Yorke's superb all-round play.

Sadly, it also proved conclusively that, although he scores regularly in the Premiership, Andy Cole's non-existent first-touch will prevent him from reaching the very pinnacle of his profession, something Mr Hoddle suggested shortly before he was shown the door.

MIKE SHAW

Perry Barr, Birmingham

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