Rugby Union: Carling confident of facing French

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The Independent Online
WILL CARLING'S ankle injury turned out yesterday to be less severe than the grapevine had indicated, leaving the England captain certain he will be fit to face France at Twickenham next Saturday.

The Welsh, who have followed England to the fantasy island of international training, Lanzarote, were not so lucky. Mike Griffiths, their long-serving prop, has broken his collar-bone - not in training but riding a bicycle - and though Wales are not playing in the first round of Five Nations games he is out of the entire championship.

In common with Dewi Morris and Peter Winterbottom, two more casualties of Saturday's Orrell v Harlequins First Division match, Carling did not train in the rain with the rest of the team at Twickenham yesterday. But this, as they say, was precautionary.

'I'm certain I'll be training on Wednesday night with the rest of the squad,' he said. The fact remains, however, that since November his rugby has been confined to the 14 minutes he lasted in the defeat at Orrell - imperfect preparation for the French.

'When I was hurt I wanted to play on, but the doctor said it wasn't worth it. I had treatment straight away and I'm going to be all right.' Carling has missed only one of England's 39 matches (31 as captain) since his debut in 1988: the 1989 victory in Romania, where the team were led by Rob Andrew.

Winterbottom needed stitches beneath his left eye and Morris had a dead leg. Ian Hunter, who had withdrawn from Northampton's last-minute defeat by Leicester, trained without mishap. 'At this stage there is no prosect of anybody dropping out,' Geoff Cooke, the England manager, said.

Griffiths came a cropper during the first free time the Welsh had been given since being away. He was pitched off a mountain-bike after crashing into Anthony Clement and Colin Stephens, who had collided ahead of him. Stephens had stitches in an elbow and Clement abrasions to an arm and a leg.

Griffiths's recovery period will be at least eight weeks and, though the team will not be announced until next week, he will certainly be succeeded against England by the uncapped Ricky Evans, a former Royal Engineer who has been a stalwart member of the Llanelli pack for the past four years.

At 30, Griffiths was a veteran of a young Wales team. At 32, Evans is even longer in the tooth but only marginally older than Jeff Probyn, his likely opponent on 6 February, was when he made his England debut five years ago.

'That is a mature age for a mature position,' Gareth Jenkins, Evans's club coach and the assistant Wales coach, commented. In fact Evans, despite an age which recent Schweppes Cup final programmes show to be advancing at a rate of two years per annum, may well give Wales more about the field than the hapless Griffiths.

Another player who has been around, the Ulster full-back Colin Wilkinson, replaces injured Jim Staples in the Irish team to play Scotland at Murrayfield next Saturday. Wilkinson, 31, has been playing provincial rugby since 1985 and has five Ireland B caps. The replacements, also named yesterday, are notable for the return of the lock Neil Francis, Irish rugby's great unfulfilled talent. Francis has played only once since recovering from a back injury.

IRELAND REPLACEMENTS (v Scotland, Murrayfield 16 January): B Glennon (Lansdown), P Russell (Instonians), R Saunders (London Irish), T Kingston (Dolphin), N Francis (Blackrock College), P Millar (Ballymena).

John Hall, the Bath flanker, will captain England A against France B at Leicester on Friday night.

Reports and results, page 28

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