RUGBY UNION: Johnson is world's apart from the real action

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON had hoped to lead England out at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the World Cup final tomorrow. Instead he will be returning to domestic action in the Allied Dunbar Premiership, playing for Leicester at Newcastle while the real action takes place between France and Australia more than 300 miles away.

England's captain has had nearly two weeks to get over the disappointment of the World Cup quarter-final defeat by South African in Paris and must now turn his attention to motivating the Tigers in their attempts to retain the league title.

Johnson is just one of the big guns recalled to Leicester's line-up for the match in the North East. He will be joined by his international team- mates Will Greenwood, Neil Back, Graham Rowntree and Darren Garforth.

Newcastle have lost just three times in 43 league, cup and European Cup matches at Kingston Park since Rob Andrew took charge - but Tigers inflicted two of them, notably in May when they sealed the title.

Meanwhile, Bristol's director of rugby Bob Dwyer has made sweeping changes for the visit of Northampton. The Argentina scrum-half Agustin Pichot and centre Eduardo Simone are set for debuts having signed in the summer, as is the Scotland centre Jamie Mayer.

Northampton will be without their England half-backs Matt Dawson and Paul Grayson. Dawson is still sidelined by the hamstring injury sustained during England's Paris match, while Grayson has a foot problem. The Scotland flanker Budge Pountney makes his first start since the World Cup in a 22-man Saints squad that also includes Tim Rodber, Pat Lam, Allan Bateman and Nick Beal. Gloucester welcome back the England prop Phil Vickery for the visit of injury-hit Sale. Vickery was on the bench last weekend when he returned to the club from World Cup duty. He played in the second half of Gloucester's win at Northampton but is restored to the No 3 shirt at Andy Deacon's expense.

Sale travel without a full compliment of replacements and their director of rugby, Adrian Hadley, said: "It's a nightmare. Out of a squad of 30 players we have 10 on the injured list so have only five fit replacements. Fortunately we are able to fulfil our front-row requirements but are completely without cover in some positions."

The front-row problems have been eased by the return from World Cup duty of the England and former Gloucester favourite Phil Greening. At least someone is grateful for England's early exit.

Horan the World Cup

artist, page 26