Rugby Union: Johnson's injury problem

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The Independent Online
England's best-laid plans came unstuck yesterday when Martin Johnson, having been one of only two members of the England team to have played on Saturday, limped out of training at Twickenham with a recurrence of his hamstring injury.

Jack Rowell, the England manager, has been striving to get his players a Saturday off before their international assigments. Hence the absence, with the Five Nations' Championship opening against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, of all bar Johnson and Jeremy Guscott from the latest round of league matches.

How ironic, then, that Johnson should have sustained the injury not by playing but in training during the two months from early November to early January when almost the only games the England players played were Tests against Romania and Canada.

Rowell described his lock's injury as "chronic", with rest the only cure. Johnson himself is confident of being passed fit when England reassemble on Wednesday - just as he was before last month's Canada match.

Rowell's theory then was that the summoning of the uncapped Simon Shaw as cover prompted Johnson's rapid recovery. If the same does not happen this time, the 6ft 9in Bristolian will make his England debut.

Johnson played on Saturday only because Dean Richards had flu, permitting Leicester to field a different England player. Richards also expects to have recovered by Wednesday but if not, Ben Clarke will move to No 8 with Steve Ojomoh coming in at wing forward.

After the death of his baby son last week, Michael Bradley did not train with Ireland yesterday and is being allowed to leave a decision on whether to lead the team against England until tomorrow.

Welsh injury worries ahead of their Five Nations match in France are less serious than they seemed when they trained at the Cardiff athletics stadium on Saturday. In particular, although the 6ft 10in lock, Derwyn Jones, curtailed his participation when his back was giving him discomfort as he ran on the tartan track, he insists he is in no doubt.

Less fortunate is Alan Sharp, whose back injury could have longer-term implications than his withdrawal from the Scotland team to play Canada at Murrayfield on Saturday. The Bristol prop is replaced by another West Country Anglo, Dave Hilton, a 24-year-old new cap who has not played on a losing side this season, for Bath, Scottish Exiles or Scotland A. Hilton is blessed with Scottish grandparents.

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