Rowntree and Back hope for a quick cure

Rugby
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The Independent Online
England moved from the relative tranquillity of Durban to the rather meaner streets of downtown Jo'burg last night still not knowing for sure whether the World Cup is over for Neil Back and Graham Rowntree, writes Steve Bale from Johannesburg.

The prognosis remains gloomy, however, even though both players insist the injuries - pulled hamstring and pulled calf muscle respectively - incurred in Sunday's remorseless game against Western Samoa were not as bad as the management had been putting about.

Rowntree even suggested that a couple of days' intensive treatment might see him right, but in any case the England doctor, Terry Crystal, decided to give them at least another 24 hours to see the speed of their recovery. Meanwhile contact has been established with Peter Rossborough, who is managing the shadow England side in Australia, but no specific players have been told to stand by.

The World Cup squad's only training yesterday was a post-match relaxation session at a Durban gymnasium - which was just as well given how many casualties there were during Sunday's 44-22 victory that qualified them for a quarter-final against Australia in Cape Town next Sunday. Why they have had to drag themselves up to Johannesburg in the meantime remains a mystery.

As well as Back and Rowntree, Dean Richards and Will Carling left the field, Carling with a recurrence of the ankle injury that put him out of the Italy game, which is not thought to be serious. Neither is Richards's neck injury, the more important consolation being that his hamstring came through intact.

With Tim Rodber having a cut head and four Samoans also having to be replaced, the attritional nature of this World Cup could not have been more graphically illustrated, though the injury which has left the Ivorian wing Max Brito immobile and possibly paralysed was a ghastly accident rather than the product of an otherwise obvious trend.

Rugby has never been as physical as it is being seen to be in this tournament and the question will soon be asked whether the human body can take the punishment being dished out. Already the trend towards shoulder-padding, in many cases outside the regulations, appears unstoppable.

Injuries permitting, the England management have a number of selection decisions they may not have anticipated when they came here. Jack Rowell, the coach, said all through the pool stage that his team selection would not be definitive until it came to the quarter-final.

The evidence of the Five Nations' Championship is, in the diametrically different circumstances of South Africa and a World Cup, old history now and Rowell has to consider the possibility of leaving out Jeremy Guscott in order to accommodate Philip de Glanville, who despite the bruising nature of the exchanges was exceptional against the Samoans. So was Dewi Morris, and on the basis of form he is bound to displace Kyran Bracken at scrum-half.

n As if losing to France in injury time was not bad enough, Scotland were forced yesterday to share the same hotel as their conquerors. Scotland have spent two weeks in the Crowne Plaza Holiday Inn in Pretoria, but under the rules of the World Cup the teams switch hotels for the quarter- final stages and the highest seeded countries get priority. Thus Scotland have been moved to another Holiday Inn in Pretoria - where the French are also staying - and New Zealand will take over their old rooms.

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