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Fourie receives Back backing

Neil Back believes Leeds forward Hendre Fourie could emerge as England's first-choice openside flanker ahead of next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

South Africa-born Fourie, 30, enjoyed an outstanding campaign last season to earn him inclusion in Martin Johnson's squad for the summer tour of Australia and New Zealand before injury curtailed his involvement. Significantly, however, the fit-again Fourie has been named in Johnson's 32-man Elite Player Squad for the coming season.

And Back said: "For me, Hendre was the stand-out openside flanker in the Premiership last season. He was doing everything slightly better than some great players in the Premiership."

He added: "He got his opportunity with England and unfortunately he got injured during the summer tour, but he's in the 32-man squad this season and Johnno has an open mind about places in the side.

"Hendre is certainly a part of his plans at the moment and I believe that if he plays as well as he can this season then he can get that starting role with England."

Johnson this week refused to confirm Lewis Moody as England captain due to the intense competition for places within his squad, giving hope to the likes of Tom Rees, Steffon Armitage and Fourie that the number seven jersey is up for grabs.

It has to be remembered that Moody, 32, was superb during England's summer tour, leading Johnson's men to a shock second Test win over Australia in the absence of Steve Borthwick.

With Borthwick now dropped from Johnson's squad, Moody had seemed certain to skipper England through to the World Cup.

Yet Johnson is keeping an open mind and Back, who helped England to win the World Cup in 2003, added: "I know Lewis Moody so well from our time together at Leicester and England and he can also play blindside as well as openside flanker.

"He's got tremendous ability and is a fantastic player, but Hendre will push Lewis very hard this season. That can only be good for England and Martin Johnson because you need competition for places."

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