Rugby Union: Shaw becomes latest to pull out

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND have long been resigned to touring the southern hemisphere without their quickest, sharpest and most experienced players. It emerged yesterday that their biggest player, Simon Shaw, would also be missing, thanks to a worsening ankle condition that has plagued him since 1994.

The 6ft 9in, 19st Wasps lock withdrew from summer duty after talks with Clive Woodward, the England coach, whose party now lacks almost a full score of front-line squad members. David Sims, the respected Gloucester second row and captain, will fly to Australia next week in place of Shaw.

Jonny Wilkinson's reputation precedes him by such a distance that it is difficult to locate the player himself without the aid of a telescope, but Newcastle's teenage prodigy is expected to appear in full view in the Sanyo Cup at Twickenham today.

The newly crowned Premiership champions are preparing to give the 18- year-old a first senior start at outside-half, the position he seems destined to fill for England during their tour.

Wilkinson has spent all season understudying Rob Andrew, the Falcons' director of rugby, although he progressed sufficiently to force a place at centre during the latter stages of the title run-in. Yesterday, however, Andrew hinted that he would step aside for at least some of the match against Philippe Sella's World XV.

It should ensure a flicker of genuine interest in what has been dismissed as a meaningless and unnecessary addition to the longest domestic campaign in the history of English rugby. Neither Leicester nor Wasps managed to prevail against their scratch opponents in the previous two matches. Resilient as they may be, Newcastle may well find their task equally thankless this afternoon.

The most serious business of the day takes place 100 or so miles to the west, where Bristol attempt to protect their top-flight status from London Scottish. The Exiles won last Sunday's first leg 29-25 and might easily have done better still; certainly, John Steele, their coach, fancies his side's chances of a repeat performance.

"We played much the better rugby on Sunday and while the slate has been wiped clean for this game, we'll be looking to play at pace and put a number of scores past them once more,' he said.

Iain McAusland, the Australian Under-21 international, replaces Derrick Lee at full-back. Lee was sent off for punching in the opening encounter and, ironically, is now in Australia with the Scottish Test party. Bristol, meanwhile, may discipline their unsettled England tourist, the utility back Josh Lewsey, for declaring himself unavailable for play-off duty.