REDCAR-BASED Stephen Hepples virtually assured himself of a first Great Britain vest when he finished fourth on his England road debut in yesterday's big Bristol Half Marathon.

The 24-year-old North Yorkshireman clocked 65 mins 29 secs, two seconds behind third-placed Ethiopian Kassa Tadessa, who now runs for Belgrave Harriers, in a race won by Kenyan Simon Tonui in 64.18.

The 13.1-mile event was also the Great Britain trial for next month's World Half Marathon Championships in New Delhi, but the blustery conditions put the 63 minutes qualifying time out of the reach of all contenders.

But the race also served as a trial for a European international half marathon in Amsterdam or Rheims later this year and Hepples, who has a personal-best of 64 mins 42 secs, seems certain to be picked for the four-man team.

Hepples, previously an England cross country international, ran a sensible race, determinedly tracking Tonui and his fellow countryman Sammy Malakwen, with Tadessa - third in this year's Blaydon Race - until the eventual winner got away over the last mile. The winner's time in a race which attracted an entry of 12,000 runners, was 1 min 25 secs slower than last year.

Hepples' coach Peter Clifford said: "He was wearing an England vest on the road for the first time and he tried to run sensibly - he's very happy with his performance. Now we will just have to wait and see if he is picked to run for Great Britain in the next big international half marathon in Europe later this year."

Hepples, who also receives advice from London Marathon guru Alan Storey, left his first club, Loftus AC earlier this year to compete on the track in Division One of the British Athletics League for Newham and Essex Beagles.

* Scottish international Andrew Caine won yesterday's Tynedale ten-mile road race between Hexham and Ovingham.

Second last year to former Commonwealth Games marathon Bronze medallist Mark Hudspith, Caine clocked 50 mins 40 secs, beating Chester-le-Street's Stewy Bell by nearly three minutes.

Elswick Harrier Judith Nutt won the women's race in 63 mins 9 secs, beating Gateshead veteran Sarah Heatley by over a minute and a half.

Results - Men: 1 A Caine (Tynedale) 50.40; 2 S Bell (Chester-le-Street) 53.32; 3 D Robertson (Sunderland M40) 53.37; 4 M Grainger (Darlington M40) 55.13; 5 S Murdoch (Border M40) 55.33. Team: Sunderland 38 pts.

Women: 1 J Nutt (Elswick) 63.09; 2 S Heatley (Gateshead W40) 64.41; 3 L Walker (Wallsend) 67.38. Team: Wallsend 20 pts.