Rugby Union: 'Non-contact' session puts ill-fated Rodber out of Northampton's semi-final

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The Independent Online
TIM RODBER spent yesterday lunchtime limping forlornly around the decks of HMS Monmouth, which was something of a high-risk venture given the Northampton captain's growing reputation as an accident waiting to happen. Rodber, a captain in the Green Howards, was piped aboard to help launch this season's Inter-Services Championship, but he was understandably preoccupied by the latest delay to the relaunch of own his injury-plagued England career.

Rodber will definitely miss this weekend's Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final with Saracens at Franklins Gardens after tearing a ligament in his right knee during an impromptu bout of rugby league during club training. Far worse, he may struggle to make this summer's four-Test trek around the southern hemisphere.

The bitter irony is that Rodber himself suggested the ill-fated 10 minutes of league as a means of finishing a hitherto non-contact session with a bang. It was the final indignity in a long series of recent fitness setbacks that have proved embarrassing as well as depressing: last month, Rodber was invalided out of England's squad against France when he twanged a hamstring during a gentle "walk-through" session in Versailles.

Saracens will almost certainly travel without their left-wing, Brendon Daniel, who pulled a hamstring on Wednesday at Newcastle. Paddy Johns, their Irish international lock, also failed to go the distance.

There was better news on the fitness front for Wasps as they finalised preparations for tomorrow's second semi-final with Sale. Alex King is back in harness after two months of much-needed rest and recuperation of his right knee which means Gareth Rees resumes at full-back for the injured Paul Sampson.

They have further reshuffled their back division by shelving two out- of-form internationals, Andy Gomarsall and Kenny Logan. Mike Friday and Laurence Scrase get the nod at scrum-half and left-wing respectively. A groin injury keeps out Sale's England winger, David Rees.

Rumours of more behind-the-scenes back-biting at The Stoop were strongly denied by Harlequins officials yesterday, despite the news that Zinzan Brooke, the great All Black No 8, was about to relieve Andy Keast of the coaching reins. "Zinzan will take over the coaching mantle for the remaining matches this season and this will allow Andy the time he needs to review the coaching and playing structure - a project that needs urgent attention with less than five months to go before the 1998/99 campaign," said the club in a statement.

Management sources insisted that Keast's position was secure but the latest outbreak of player discontent, something of an annual event, is gathering momentum. The first-team dressing-room did for Dick Best almost exactly a year ago and it will be no great surprise if his replacement goes the same way sooner rather than later.

Ireland will go into their Five Nations finale with England tomorrow week with the same side that lost to Wales in Dublin six days ago. The Welsh have made one change for their match with France, however; Stuart Davies, the 32-year-old No 8, comes into the back row at the expense of Kingsley Jones. Colin Charvis, another Swansea loose forward, moves to the open side to accommodate his club-mate.

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