June International Tours

Yates set to make English history

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Kevin Yates dreamed of resurrecting his England career, and if he realises the dream and features for the world champions on their tour of South Africa, he will set a record.

When Canadian-born Yates last wore a senior England shirt, Tony Blair was barely five weeks into his first term as Prime Minister and Clive Woodward’s reign as red rose coach had not even started.

Appearances in both Tests of an away 1997 series against Argentina suggested a successful international career had dawned – then it all went horribly wrong.

Despite protesting his innocence – a stance he adopts to this day – Yates received a six-month Rugby Football Union ban after becoming embroiled in an ear-biting controversy that saw London Scottish flanker Simon Fenn receive 25 stitches during a cup-tie at Bath.

Yates duly completed the remainder of his Bath contract, but then headed to New Zealand after landing a Super 12 deal with Wellington Hurricanes, before arriving back in the England squad following spells at Sale and his current club, Saracens.

If Yates plays against the Springboks in Bloemfontein next Saturday or Pretoria seven days later, he will create a new figure for the longest wait between caps by any England player.

John Bentley holds the record of nine years and 44 days between 1988 and mid-1997. England, meanwhile, have played 111 Tests since losing 33-13 to Argentina in Yates’ last international appearance.

“Ten years is a very long time, but it has flown by,” he said.

I wasn’t expecting the call for this tour, to be honest. Even though I have been in touch intermittently with the England management throughout the season, you never expect it. It was a real surprise.

“It was like 1997 all over again when I got the call. I have still got that excitement, and it is always a great buzz to be part of a squad of high-calibre players.

“This tour is a great opportunity for me, and I am really looking forward to it. It has given players like me and the younger guys an opportunity we otherwise might not have had, and it also gives the England management a chance to look at players they probably wouldn’t have looked at.

“Overall, it should give England a better fighting chance when it comes to selecting their World Cup squad and getting that selection correct.”

Yates played a key role in Saracens securing a Guinness Premiership play-off place this term, and England head coach Brian Ashton knows the 34-year-old offers considerable experience to a squad severely depleted by injuries and lacking any personnel from Leicester, Wasps or Bath.

Unlike many of his fellow tourists, Yates also understands what is required on South Africa’s high veldt, having represented the Hurricanes in Super 12 action at both Bloemfontein and Pretoria.

Only three other English Test players have featured in the showpiece southern hemisphere tournament – Stuart Abbott (Western Stormers), Geoff Appleford (Natal Sharks) and Julian White (Canterbury Crusaders) – and it was a phase of his career Yates still savours.

“When my Bath contract was up in 1999, I had an opportunity to go and play in New Zealand, and it was one I couldn’t refuse,” he added.

“I was 26, or whatever, at the time, and I am really glad I did it.

With a professional sport, people usually chase money, but for me it was an opportunity to go to New Zealand and play Super 12 rugby. Financially, it wasn’t worth my while, but in terms of rugby it was a good move.

“They welcomed me and I had no problem fitting in. It was just like being part of a rugby club anywhere in the world.

“I had been at Bath since I was 16, so whether I moved to Wellington or to Bristol that move would have done me good. They were good times.

“Playing in places like Bloemfontein and Pretoria with Wellington were obviously tough experiences, and this tour will be exactly the sa

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