Rugby Union: Bayfield returns to bolster the line-out: Forward's return bodes well for England

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The Independent Online
HE is big and he is back, the 6ft 10in Martin Bayfield resumes in the second row for Northampton in their Bank Holiday fixture against Nottingham at Franklin's Gardens on Monday. Which means, all going well, England can breathe a sigh of relief so far as line-out selection is concerned when they open their Five Nations' Championship account away to Scotland on 5 February.

Bayfield has been laid low with a career-threatening neck injury which interrupted his Lions tour of New Zealand in June and forced him out of the game again at the end of September. Now, following extensive physiotherapy, he has declared himself fit.

Part of Bayfield's routine has been to don a weighted head harness to build up the neck muscles. 'You have to increase the muscle tissue around the neck so that it acts as a shock absorber,' he said.

Northampton expect to field virtually a full-strength side against their Second Division visitors in preparation for a tough League resumption away to Leicester tomorrow week. 'We may have one of the strongest back lines in the First Division,' Glen Ross, the Saints coach, said, 'but we have been short of possession without Bayfield to win us crucial line-out balls.'

Bath's Nigel Redman, who covered for Bayfield in England's win over the All Blacks at Twickenham last month, is also on the mend after breaking a hand earlier this month. He returns against Bristol in the fifth round of the Pilkington Cup on 22 January. 'It has healed well but I'm taking no chances,' said Redman, who will take more than a passing interest in Bayfield's progress.