The England captain, Shaun Edwards, has suffered the worst blow of his career by being ruled out of the Halifax Centenary World Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.
The Wigan scrum-half resigned himself to missing the tournament decider yesterday when he had a recurrence of the knee infection that kept him out of the semi-final victory over Wales. "I feel very sorry for Shaun," said the England coach, Phil Larder. "I know how hard he has prepared for this competition and he has been a tremendous help to me in the build- up."
Edwards has had a miserable World Cup, going down with a stomach bug after England's opening match win over Australia and only making a brief appearance as a substitute against Fiji since.
His infected knee is a legacy of the Australian match and a bitterly disappointed Edwards has complained about the initial medical attention he received.
The effect of his withdrawal is that Bobbie Goulding, outstanding against Wales in Edwards' absence, will definitely be at scrum-half on Saturday.
Larder had been hoping to keep Australia guessing about who would fill the role at Wembley. Now, with John Bentley and Daryl Powell unlikely to be fit to return, he is odds-on to name the same side that beat Wales. Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell are both expected to be fit.
The Widnes referee, Stuart Cummings, has been put in charge of the final. "It is the pinnacle of my career," said the 34-year-old. "We will try to achieve the conditions to allow the players to display their skills."
Both England and Australia are likely to be tolerably pleased with the choice. Playing under a referee of the same nationality helps players know what is expected of them, but the Australian camp have also made complimentary noises about Cummings. They will certainly prefer him to Russell Smith, who penalised them heavily in their semi-final against New Zealand on Saturday and who was the subject of a post-match protest.
The Australian coach, Bob Fulton, will name his final line-up today. Provided Rod Wishart has recovered from leg and head injuries, Fulton is unlikely to deviate far from the side that beat the Kiwis in injury time, although David Gillespie could come into contention if his hamstring has recovered fully.Reuse content