Picking Moody may be a risk too far

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson does not yet believe that Lewis Moody, hobbling once again on that dodgy right knee of his, is at serious risk of missing next month's World Cup in New Zealand. There again, he doesn't know for sure – and when a manager is still pondering major issues, like the captaincy, little more than a month before the most important tournament in the sport, it is difficult to argue that things are going swimmingly.

Moody, awarded the red-rose captaincy in March last year, has played less than nine hours of competitive rugby in 2011 and as the flanker underwent another scan yesterday, the England hierarchy must surely have been turning their thoughts to alternatives: to Tom Wood of Northampton, Chris Robshaw of Harlequins and James Haskell of, er, the Ricoh Black Rams of Japan, none of whom would claim to be specialist breakaways, and to Hendre Fourie, the naturalised South African, who is very definitely a No 7, albeit one whose stock is lower now than it was before Christmas.

Johnson, suddenly wary of backing Moody as his World Cup leader before last weekend's narrow victory over Wales at Twickenham, was similarly non-committal in discussing the injury yesterday. "We're waiting for the scan results," he said. "It's not great that Lewis got injured, but I don't think it's on the very bad side of knee injuries. There's more good news than bad in that I don't think it will rule him out of the tournament, but we'll see." It was not, in truth, the most informative bulletin in the history of sports medicine.

This much is certain: if Johnson includes Moody in his final 30-man party, he will be taking a significant gamble. Yet if he fails to prove his fitness, who will take on the captaincy? Mike Tindall, the Gloucester centre, is next in line, but his place in the first-choice team was not exactly reinforced as a result of events at Twickenham, where the 20-year-old Manu Tuilagi made the most of his debut appearance.

Far more pressing in Johnson's mind yesterday was what he called England's "passive defence" in the last 20 minutes of Saturday's contest. "We lost the last quarter 12-3, which wasn't great," he commented. "Some of the momentum went out of our rugby."

Two of England's injured tight forwards, the prop Andrew Sheridan and the lock Courtney Lawes, are back in full-contact training and in contention for some meaningful activity on Saturday.

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