Johnson the only worry for England

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The Independent Online
England's team for what already looks like being the climactic match of this season's Five Nations' Championship against France at Twickenham on 4 February will be named tomorrow. An unchanged choice should not detain the selectors too long.

The only concerns yesterday after the 20-8 defeat of Ireland in Dublin were Martin Johnson's continuing hamstring injury, which gave him trouble during the second half at Lansdowne Road, and the scrummaging methods of Ireland's Nick Popplewell which indirectly led to Ben Clarke's being the first international rugby player to be shown the yellow card.

The Leicester lock's hamstring made him doubtful before both the Canada match last month and Saturday's, and he will miss Leicester's Pilkington Cup tie at Bristol next Saturday to ensure his fitness to face the French a week later.

As for Popplewell, he was accused of grabbing Victor Ubogu's right leg when the front rows packed down. "We constantly asked the referee to penalise him," Ubogu said. "It isn't in the spirit of the game and is very dangerous." Popplewell apologised.

When the referee took no action Clarke took the law into his own hands by hitting Popplewell, an action which brought the England flanker a warning. Later, when Clarke trampled on Simon Geoghegan he was shown the yellow card. As there is no totting-up procedure, it has no effect other than as a final warning.

Patrick Thomas (who, despite his name, is neither Irish nor Welsh but French) initially produced both red and yellow cards and for a few excruciating moments Clarke thought he was about to be shown the former. "I had quite a shock," the history-maker said. "I was tremendously relieved when it was yellow."

Clarke denied "malicious intent" in the incident involving Geoghegan, a team-mate at Bath. "I was rucking the ball and not stamping on Simon. I think I was carded following the earlier offence, but communication was difficult with the referee. I am not amalicious player."

Neil Francis will be out for six weeks because of the rib injury which caused him to be replaced against England. This means Ireland's leading line-out forward is out of the Scottish match on Saturday week, probably out of the French match on 4 March andalso possibly the Welsh match two weeks after that.

England's purpose, page 28

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