Rugby Union: Lack of muscle worries Henry

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THE WHOLE point of being a Messiah is that you have God on your side, writes Chris Hewett.

Unfortunately for Graham Henry, the New Zealander charged with giving the poor sinners of Wales a long-awaited taste of rugby heaven, divine intervention appears to be working against him rather than for him. Indeed, with Allan Bateman definitely out of this weekend's must- win Five Nations match with Ireland and varying degrees of doubt surrounding three of his tight five, Henry is having a hellish time of it on the selection front.

So hellish, in fact, that the national coach decided to postpone yesterday's planned team announcement. Instead, he put his squad through two training sessions in order to check on Jonathan Humphreys, David Young and Craig Quinnell, all of whom are considered crucial to any resurrection of the Red Dragon following the crippling disappointment at Murrayfield 10 days ago. Rob Howley, the captain, is also having problems with a dodgy shoulder, but is confident of making the Wembley date.

Bateman's withdrawal surprised no one; the highly valued outside centre pulled a hamstring during Richmond's Premiership victory over Sale at Reading on Sunday and his examination by the Welsh medical team yesterday was nothing more than a formality. Henry seemed certain to replace his guile with the muscular talents of Mark Taylor, the Swansea centre who proved such a handful in the pre-Christmas Tests against South Africa and Argentina.

It was the muscle, or lack of it, amongst the forwards that most concerned the coach. Both Young and Quinnell missed the championship opener with the Scots and in their absence, the Welsh pack performed with all the venom of a seven-stone weakling. If neither make the cut for this one - and, worse still, if Humphreys, the physical Cardiff hooker, finally succumbs to the niggling back condition that has doused his fire of late - the hard men of Ireland will be licking their lips.

If Henry had his fitness worries, his opposite number in Australia, Rod Macqueen, was seriously depressed: the Wallaby coach discovered yesterday that John Eales, the most complete player in world rugby, had suffered a serious shoulder injury that may rule him out of this autumn's World Cup.

The great Queensland lock damaged tendons during a gym session and will undergo immediate surgery. "He'll be out of action for months," said Strath Gordon, a spokesman for the Australian Rugby Union. "We don't want to second guess anything, but it doesn't look good."