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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 13:42 GMT
Hill climbs into England reckoning
By Simon Austin

Richard Hill
Hilll has been tipped for an England recall by Saracens' Alan Gaffney

The emphasis has been on youth during Brian Ashton's brief tenure as England coach, but the Lancastrian could turn to a 33-year-old veteran as the World Cup draws closer.

England's back row lacked a certain grit and cussedness during the Six Nations, particularly on the tricky away assignments in Dublin and Cardiff.

Yet the solution might not be far away. As the tournament progressed, Richard Hill - a man described as "without question the best rugby player England have ever had" by Matt Dawson - was turning in a series of increasingly impressive performances for Saracens.

After a convincing win over Bristol last weekend, Sarries coach Alan Gaffney purred: "I can see him getting back in the England team. The World Cup? Absolutely. He has been outstanding in the past two weeks.''

Ashton has monitored Hill's progress closely and invited him to train with England early in their Six Nations campaign.

England have got a nucleus of young players capable of being stars of the future

Richard Hill
The player himself, who was warned his career could be over prior to reconstructive knee surgery last May, is typically modest and understated.

"It was great to go along to England training and see the new set-up," the 33-year-old told BBC Sport.

"I had a good chat with Brian and he told me to keep my head down and keep playing well for Saracens. I'm sure he had more important things to think about than me."

The blind-side flanker has played in six of Saracens' last seven matches and Gaffney says "he is close to international form".

Hill says: "It's encouraging that I've been playing regularly, which was always the aim. I didn't know if that would be possible when I made my comeback last October.

606: DEBATE

"I'm still being managed very well by the club and, I know it's a cliche, but I'm taking things game by game. I've still got to be very careful what I do and we moderate my training as well.

"I don't take part in all of the training sessions and always make sure I'm not pounding the knee. I've also got to make sure that I concentrate on the mundane aspects of recovery, things like stretching and swimming."

Gaffney admits Hill "may not have all the pace he had" and the player says "there are things I'd like to improve, like my positioning".

But Saracens' form has improved following his return to action and they now sit fourth in the Guinness Premiership.

"The team is performing well and we're in a good position to attack the top four and a place in the end-of-season play-offs," he says.

Tom Rees
Tom Rees has impressed Hill
"There are six or seven teams that can finish in the top four and we've got a key game against London Irish on Friday."

The flanker, who has won 70 caps and a World Cup with England, says he has been impressed with Ashton's impact.

"I don't think anyone expected England to be challenging for the championship on the final weekend, but that's exactly what happened.

"There were some encouraging signs. We've now got a nucleus of young players who've come together and shown themselves capable of being stars of the future.

"Of course there are still areas in which they could perform better and they'd admit that themselves. But overall, it's been positive."

Hill kept a particularly close eye on the back row and was impressed with Wasps open-side Tom Rees. "He's an exciting young prospect and looked comfortable in an England shirt," he noted.

It may not be long before Hill is back there alongside him.




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Saracens 24-22 Gloucester
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Saracens 19-8 London Irish
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Hill battles back
29 Nov 06 |  Rugby Union
Hill scores on Saracens comeback
31 Oct 06 |  Saracens
Hill's career on line over injury
26 Jun 05 |  Internationals


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