Abbott set for debut

Wasps centre Stuart Abbott will make his first appearance in an England shirt on Monday after he was today named in a strong side to face the New Zealand Maori.

Wasps centre Stuart Abbott will make his first appearance in an England shirt on Monday after he was today named in a strong side to face the New Zealand Maori.

The South African-born star will line up inside Newcastle’s Jamie Noon, who gets another opportunity to impress after his outstanding performance against the Barbarians less than a fortnight ago.

The match in New Plymouth will also signal the return to England action for Iain Balshaw, whose form dipped so dramatically after he burst onto the international scene with a flurry of tries in the 2001 Six Nations.

The Bath man will play at full-back in a side, to be captained by Gloucester’s Phil Vickery, that also sees England A flanker Andy Hazell make his first senior appearance.

James Simpson-Daniel recovered from the injury scare that threatened his tour and, after taking part in both England’s training sessions in Wellington, will play on the opposite wing to Dan Luger.

Coach Clive Woodward, who oversaw a rigorous session in the teeming rain this morning, opted to name Northampton’s Paul Grayson at stand-off, outside scrum-half Kyran Bracken.

The half-back pairing share an astonishing 69 caps between them, but for Abbott the clash against a proud Maori outfit, who promise to be both physical and fleet-footed, marks yet another high in what has been a memorable season.

Only last week the 25-year-old carved Gloucester apart as Wasps claimed the Zurich Premiership title with a Grand Final victory at Twickenham.

Now, the former South Africa Under-23 centre is preparing to take on the Maori in the white of England.

“The last two weeks have quite easily been the most eventful of my career to date,” he said.

“The win against Gloucester, the tour call-up and now the chance to play the New Zealand Maori on Monday have provided me with some excellent opportunities.

“I am looking forward to the game, which will be a huge challenge for me.”

Woodward, who offered special congratulations to Abbott for forcing his way into the set-up, made it plain that the game offers all involved the chance to push their international claims.

“I’d like to congratulate Stuart Abbott on his call-up, it’s on merit and reflects the excellent season he’s had for his club this season,” said Woodward.

“It’s a good opportunity for all the England players taking part to push their international credentials against a very tough side.

“The New Zealand Maori are a strong side with some excellent wins in the last couple of seasons, including Argentina and Scotland.”

The England 22 fly to New Plymouth on Sunday and promise to provide sterner opposition to the shadow side that was thumped by the Maori on the hellish 1998 tour.

England conceded nine tries that day, but Maori coach Matt Te Pou is fully aware that this touring side, with their experience, form a far different proposition.

“This team here will be much stronger,” he told PA International.

“We have been very much aware that in the last few years they have been building. We will never see a team like that one in 1998 again.

“We may be playing the England A players, with a few Test players, on Monday but that team at that particular time was a B team.”

Te Pou is anxious his side compete at the breakdown and set-piece to stand any chance, and his players will up be against a fearsome England pack.

Alongside Hazell in the back row is Leicester and British Lions flanker Martin Corry with Wasps’ Joe Worsley at number eight.

Vickery will pack down with club-mate Trevor Woodman and hooker Dorian West, with Simon Shaw and Steve Borthwick the locks.

England team to play the New Zealand Maori in New Plymouth on Monday, June 9 is: I Balshaw; D Luger, J Noon, S Abbott, J Simpson-Daniel; P Grayson, K Bracken; T Woodman, D West, P Vickery, S Shaw, S Borthwick, M Corry, A Hazell, J Worsley.

Replacements: M Regan, M Worsley, T Palmer, P Volley, A Gomarsall, A King, B Johnston.

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