England cheered by Pryce's prospects

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The Independent Online

England'S first-choice right-winger, Leon Pryce, has brought some good news into the team's camp with the prospect that he may recover sufficiently from his dislocated shoulder to play in the latter stages of the Lincoln Financial World Cup.

England'S first-choice right-winger, Leon Pryce, has brought some good news into the team's camp with the prospect that he may recover sufficiently from his dislocated shoulder to play in the latter stages of the Lincoln Financial World Cup.

Pryce suffered the injury for the second time this season during the victory over Russia on Wednesday and the initial fear was that England would have to send for a replacement. "But the last 24 hours has done him a lot of good," said the team manager, David Howes. "The doctor put the shoulder back in quickly and that has helped."

The England coach, John Kear, now hopes that Pryce, impressively composed against Australia last weekend, could be back for the quarter-final next Saturday. "It is not as serious as it seemed at the time," he said. "Being optimistic, we could have him back for the quarters. More realistically, it could be the semi."

Pryce's prognosis means that any plans to bring in a stand-in, such as the Leeds winger, Karl Pratt, or the prolific Martin Offiah, have been placed on hold.

Today's match against Fiji at Headingley is a replay of a meeting between the two countries at the group stage of the last World Cup in 1995. That year, England won 46-0 in front of 26,000 people at Wigan; they and the World Cup organisers would settle for matching either of those statistics this afternoon.

Gates for the tournament so far have been disappointing and England's performances, in defeat by Australia and even in victory over Russia, have fallen short of their aspirations.

For today's game, Kear is without three other players as well as Pryce. Mike Forshaw has a viral infection and has been told to stay out of camp until Monday, Darren Fleary has a dead leg and Paul Sculthorpe is still not sufficiently recovered from his hamstring strain to be considered for his first appearance of the tournament. "There has to be a question mark over him for the quarter-final," admitted Howes.

Even with those depleted resources, Kear shuffles his cards to try out some different combinations. The players filling roles with which they are not entirely familiar are Paul Wellens on the wing, Kris Radlinski at centre, Sean Long partnering Paul Wellens from stand-off and Tony Smith starting at hooker.

It is a line-up which should be strong enough to win at Headingley and secure second place in the pool, but Harvey Howard, who is on the bench for England, has warned his team-mates to be wary of his Brisbane Broncos colleague, Lote Tuqiri. Tuqiri is a heavy-scoring winger for the Broncos, but has shone at full-back for Fiji in this competition. "Harvey has spoken to the players about him as part of a general warning against any complacency," said Howes.

Tuqiri has added a warning of his own. "We have a chance," he insisted. "We are not here just to make up the numbers."

In what are predicted to be rare decent conditions for this weather-blighted World Cup, the expressive Fijians should at least get the chance to impress the Headingley crowd with their ball skills. For all the warnings about Tuqiri's strike power, however, England should be easily capable of doing enough to stay at the same ground for their quarter-final next weekend.

ENGLAND: Spruce (Bradford); Wellens (St Helens), Naylor (Bradford), Radlinski (Wigan), Rogers (Castleford); Long (St Helens), Deacon (Bradford); Stephenson (Wigan), Smith (Hull), Anderson (Bradford), Peacock (Bradford), Hay (Leeds), Farrell (Wigan, capt). Substitutes: Sinfield (Leeds), Walker (Leeds), Fielden (Bradford), Howard (Brisbane).

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