Bracken fear for England

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reports from Johannesburg

England are in peril of going into Sunday's World Cup quarter-final against Australia in Cape Town without scrum-half cover if an ankle injury suffered by Kyran Bracken continues to heal only slowly.

Amid the concern for the well-being of Neil Back and Graham Rowntree, the scrum-half's problem was conveniently concealed until the England squad trained at the University of the Witwatersrand yesterday. Bracken did nothing; neither did Rory Underwood, who was still getting over the physical demands of Sunday's game.

By contrast, Back's hamstring and Rowntree's calf are recovering so rapidly that the management's gloomy expectation that they would have to be replaced now appears to have been misplaced, and Bracken is suddenly of greater concern.

Not that he expected to be in the side against the Wallabies to be announced today; Dewi Morris's form against the Samoans has seen to that. The England management have been in touch with the management of the English tour party who are in Australia and requested that Andy Gomarsall of Wasps be sent as cover. He will arrive tomorrow.

The England players here have volunteered to go training every day this week - which is just as well as they and Western Samoa are the only quarter- finalists who have not taken themselves off to either a game park or that monument to hedonism, Sun City, during the early part of this week.

This is made more irksome for the England party because they were under the impression that once they reached Johannesburg they were obliged to stay put until departing for Cape Town. It is doubly unfortunate because England and Samoa are the only teams quartered near downtown Jo'burg, where the crime rate is such that it is dangerous to take a walk, even in daylight, without an escort.

The rest of the quarter-finalists are in Sandton, a smart suburb to the north or 35 miles away in Pretoria. Hence the enthusiastic English response to an Australian request that they be allowed to travel to Cape Town on Friday, a day earlier than planned.

England's inconveniences pale into insignificance when compared with the predicament of Max Brito, the Ivory Coast wing who was paralysed in the game against Tonga. He remains in a serious but stable condition in a Pretoria hospital after surgery yesterday to stabilise his spine.

Dr Jan Venter, the surgeon, said that his patient had total quadriplegia which would not be altered by the operation. The Rugby World Cup director Marcel Martin said yesterday that RWC was making arrangements to secure Brito's financial future.

n James Dalton, the South Africa hooker, last night had his appeal against a 30-day suspension rejected. Dalton, sent off against Canada last Saturday for fighting, has been replaced in the Springbok squad by Naka Drotske of Orange Free State.