Rugby Union: Anxious Cooke to watch the wounded: Injured England trio use crucial League fixtures to prove fitness for next week's Calcutta Cup

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THESE days it is impossible to imagine the Courage Clubs' Championship, with its ever-heightening profile, as a sideshow but the significance of this afternoon's programme pertains far more to England than the clubs themselves. The team to play Scotland will be named at Twickenham tomorrow.

Bath might not see it that way - the disregard of representative considerations is why they perennially come home first - but the fact remains that the health and welfare of England's walking wounded are what really count in the wider scheme of things. Geoff Cooke, the national team's manager, has never known a season like it for injuries.

Cooke already knows that Jeremy Guscott and Dean Richards will not be at Murrayfield next Saturday and today threatens further anxiety as he waits to see if Jonathan Callard, Kyran Bracken and Tim Rodber make it through. Callard will test his hamstring for Bath against Orrell, a game another England man, Ben Clarke, will miss so as to rest an injured calf.

Also absent from the leaders' line-up will be Nigel Redman, a heroic figure in England's win over the All Blacks but destined for demotion as soon as Martin Bayfield recaptured his fitness. Redman has had injury problems of his own and is scarcely surprised at his fate but is miffed to have been informed of his place in the A team to play Italy in Piacenza on the day of the Calcutta Cup match by letter rather than word of mouth.

Bath hold a two-point lead over Leicester at the top of the First Division, where Wasps are a further five points back with a game in hand. Leicester, home to Gloucester, have Richard Cockerill and John Wells back. A Wasps win at Newcastle is essential if their chance is not to turn from remote to impossible.

Then come Harlequins. Their visit to Bristol will be watched by Cooke, whose interest at the Memorial Ground is mainly on Bracken. If successful, the scrum-half's return for his first game since Jamie Joseph tested his studs on his ankle in the New Zealand Test two months ago could well be enough to keep him in the England team - even though he made his debut only because of Dewi Morris's late withdrawal and Morris has been in regular action in the interim.

'I took a full part in Bristol's training on Wednesday night and came through without further aggravation,' Bracken said. 'My ankle is heavily strapped but I'm happy with the way things have shaped up this week after such a long break.'

Rodber's return after a hamstring injury for Northampton's match at London Irish is perfectly timed for his club as well as England. With John Olver having retired this week, Lt T A K Rodber of the Green Howards is now promoted from vice-captain to captain.

A third hamstring being tested today belongs to Wayne Proctor, the Llanelli wing recalled instead of the injured Nigel Walker for Wales's game in Ireland the same day England meet Scotland. Proctor's appearance against Cardiff - an unlikely down-table meeting of the Heineken League's fourth and fifth - will be his first of any consequence since mid-December.

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