Rugby Union: Injuries undermine Australia tour squad

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The Independent Online
IF THE Twickenham hierarchy possessed its own version of Dick "Gallipoli" McGruther, which thankfully it does not, we could confidently expect some cheap historical wisecrack concerning the Wallabies' sudden rash of injuries. McGruther, an outspoken chairman of the Australian Rugby Union, notoriously described this summer's half-baked England tour party as "the biggest sell-out since Anzac Day", but judging by the growing casualty list down Brisbane way, the forthcoming Cook Cup return between the two countries might turn out to be the worst mismatch since Ned Kelly's shoot-out.

Three Wallabies - the flanker Matt Cockbain, the prop Glenn Panoho and the outstanding midfield virtuoso Tim Horan - suffered nasty injuries during the 25-13 World Cup qualifying victory over Western Samoa on Saturday and were instantly declared doubtful for the autumn sojourn in Europe. A fourth Test candidate, Damian Smith, tore several ligaments in a hand two days before the Samoan game and will almost certainly miss out.

Horan will undergo minor surgery on a knee condition this week while Cockbain, who is carrying a groin injury, may well follow him under the knife. Panoho is suffering from damaged elbow ligaments following a tackle in which he finished a distant second best. Rod Macqueen, the coach, will name his 26-man party next month and with a Super 12 tournament, a Tri-Nations series and a World Cup on the agenda for next year, it will be no great surprise if other front-liners plump for a proper close season rather than a tiring trip to the old country.

If a number of big-name Wallabies are keen to keep their powder dry, the ever popular Mike Rayer is desperate to renew his international career. The 33-year-old full-back, now back at Cardiff after a major falling-out with Bedford, was last night called into Graham Henry's squad for the one-off Test with South Africa at Wembley on 14 November.

"I suppose there were a couple of occasions when I might have given up hope," he said on hearing of Henry's decision. "While I had two good seasons with Bedford - it was a pity it ended as it did - I wasn't in the goldfish bowl in terms of the Welsh side. It seemed to be a case of out of sight, out of mind. If I get a chance against the Boks, I'd like to think I was able to take it."

Rayer is the early favourite to succeed Pontypridd's Kevin Morgan, who is recovering from a broken thumb, although Shane Howarth, the former All Black full-back from Sale, will mount a challenge if he is drafted into the squad later this week. Five other Welshmen were given the call yesterday: Nick Walne and Craig Quinnell of Richmond, David Llewellyn of Ebbw Vale, Chris Wyatt of Llanelli and Jonathan Humphreys, the Cardiff hooker who captained Wales two years ago.

Bedford, meanwhile, were bracing themselves for another week of behind- the-scenes anguish as doubts continued to grow over Geoff Cooke's future as chief executive. Cooke, the former England and Lions manager, took over the coaching last week following Paul Turner's abrupt departure and inspired his side to a courageous performance against Leicester on Saturday, but crippling cash-flow problems have made his position less secure.