June International Tours

Yates living the comeback dream


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Kevin Yates will enter the England record books when he returns to international rugby on Saturday in Bloemfontein, and admitted that he ‘never gave up hope’ of making a remarkable comeback.

The Canada-born Saracens prop lines up against South Africa at Vodacom Park just two weeks short of ten years since he last represented his country.

Yates, 34, will break former Lions wing John Bentley’s mark of nine years and forty-four days between caps when he gains only a third England outing.

Yates has answered a late call to replace Gloucester’s Nick Wood, who was to have made an England debut, but is now out of the tour after suffering a torn chest muscle during training.

Since he last wore England colours, Yates has experienced an eventful career.

He received a six-month Rugby Football Union suspension in 1998 after being found guilty of biting London Scottish flanker Simon Fenn’s ear during a domestic cup game.

Yates always protested his innocence, a stance he still adopts, but after completing the remaining season of his contract at Bath, he journeyed to New Zealand to play Super 12 Rugby with Wellington Hurricanes before returning home and spending three seasons with Sale Sharks and another three at his current club, Saracens.

Yates’ promotion to the starting line up will see him pack down alongside hooker Mark Regan and tighthead Stuart Turner. Their combined age is 104.

“I always kept hoping and I always worked as hard as I could,” said Yates.

“When you are a professional sportsman you want to be at the very top, and playing for England is the very top.

“I never gave up hope. All you can do is keep doing your best for your club. I have got plenty of experience, but it is nice to be the youngster in the front-row for a change!”

Unlike the overwhelming majority of his team mates tomorrow, Yates has played in Bloemfontein before, turning out for Wellington against the Cats in a Super 12 fixture six years ago.

But while Yates can celebrate a recall, England’s plans for the game continue to be severely affected by injuries and illness.

With Wood sidelined, Bath’s Matt Stevens has joined the squad as cover after flying by private jet from Cape Town, while Saracens back Dan Scarbrough has also arrived in South Africa as cover behind the scrum.

And matters could yet deteriorate further, with centre Andy Farrell and scrum-half Peter Richards battling to overcome a stomach virus that has affected several England players, including Jonny Wilkinson this week.

England head coach Brian Ashton has so far only confirmed one change from his original selection – Yates for Wood – but it would be no surprise if Toby Flood replaces Farrell tomorrow and Andy Gomarsall takes over from Richards.

England travelled to South Africa with a severely-depleted squad after Ashton decided to leave behind players from European finalists Leicester, Wasps and Bath, but his plans were further hit by a stomach virus sweeping the camp.

“It is not an ideal world, but this group of lads have worked as hard as any England group I can remember,” said Ashton.

And England team doctor Simon Kemp offered a graphic insight into how Strettle, who has been comfortably the worst affected, was laid low.

“David Strettle had 18 hours of repeated vomiting, and because of our inability to replace fluids, he had to be hospitalised,” said Kemp.

“It is as ill as I have ever seen a 24-year-old rugby player.

“Our analysis of the virus has ruled out a lot of things, but hasn’t identified what caused it. The players have been suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and weakness.

“We have always isolated the lads as soon as they showed any symptoms.”

Against such a backdrop, England must somehow raise themselves for the challenge of stopping one of this year’s World Cup favourites.


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