England send for Richards

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Dean Richards, the once- talismanic forward England have tried to do without since the summer's World Cup, may yet have a part to play in this year's Five Nations' Championship.

He has been called into the squad preparing for Saturday's opener against France at the Parc des Princes as cover for injuries to the No 8, Ben Clarke, and Tim Rodber.

Richards joined the squad at Bisham Abbey yesterday when it was discovered that Clarke has an injury problem around his left hip and lower abdomen, which a scan has failed to diagnose accurately.

Rodber has ankle and knee injuries, and although he is confident of making a full recovery before Saturday's match, the England manager, Jack Rowell, hinted that he may anyway opt for Richards if Clarke fails to make it.

"We will make the decision by Wednesday," he said. "Having said that it is between Rodber and Richards if Ben Clarke is injured, I would rather play an out-and-out No 8, and that would be Richards."

Richards, who is his country's most-capped No 8, with 45 appearances, was recently deemed so surplus to England's requirements that he was asked to return the squad-issue rowing machine and mobile phone.

Clarke, the pack leader, did not play a full part at any stage of the training weekend, and missed yesterday's vigorous work-out. He is making confident noises about his recovery, but Rowell was less sanguine. "He has what looks like a complex injury. I think it has bamboozled the medical staff."

There were several other niggling injuries. Phil de Glanville's groin strain meant a weekend call-up for Damian Hopley in the backs, while Leicester's hooker Richard Cockerill stepped in as Mark Regan was also suffering a slight groin strain. The replacement hooker, Graham Dawe is recovering from flu, while the stand-off, Paul Grayson, has a thigh strain. None of these are thought to threaten places in Saturday's game, however.

The other two home nations involved on Saturday, Scotland and Ireland, meet at Lansdowne Road. Ireland's lock, Neil Francis, and winger Simon Geoghegan both missed training yesterday, Francis with a chest infection and Geoghegan with a groin strain. Both are likely to be fit.

Scotland's plans were disrupted when the centre Scott Hastings had to withdraw from their training session when a knee injury flared up.

Jim Telfer, the Scottish manager, said he expected Hastings to recover, but hinted he would call on an experienced centre replacement, rather than moving Gregor Townsend from stand-off to centre, and bringing back the discarded Craig Chalmers at stand-off, if he did not.