Rugby Union: Rowell loses Greening to overwork

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The Independent Online
Jack Rowell, the England coach, has spent most of the season voicing concern over the relentless programme of top-level matches confronting international players and those fears came home to roost yesterday when Phil Greening, his reserve hooker, withdrew from the party to face Ireland in this weekend's round of Five Nations matches. The Gloucester livewire aggravated already damaged knee ligaments during his club's Courage league victory over Orrell at the weekend.

Richard Cockerill, of Leicester, was immediately promoted from the England A front row and will take Greening's place on the bench at Lansdowne Road. With Graham Rowntree a fixture on the loose head and Darren Garforth, a specialist tight head, on the bench, the elevation of the most talkative Tiger of them all means a national triumph for Welford Road's ever-popular ABC club.

Greening's misfortune was not of concern to Rowell alone. Fran Cotton and the rest of the Lions selection panel have been monitoring his progress for some weeks with a view to taking him to South Africa this summer and with Keith Wood, their obvious first choice from Ireland, on the long- term injury list with shoulder trouble, they could have done without the news.

The Springboks themselves reacted to a serious domestic problem yesterday when Rian Oberholzer, chief executive of the South African Rugby Football Union, announced moves to prevent a further migration of talent to big- spending clubs in Europe. "International Rugby Board regulation number nine says that any player wanting to play outside his country has first to be released by his union," Oberholzer said. "We will not be doing that from now on."

If Oberholzer's threat is genuine, the South Africans will effectively bar any more leading lights cashing in on the professional free-for-all that has disfigured the English game since the summer. Three members of the Springboks' 1995 World Cup-winning squad - Francois Pienaar, Joel Stransky and Rudi Straueli - are already plying their trade in the Courage league, along with fellow Test players Steve Atherton and John Allan.

Oberholzer believes enough is enough."We have a responsibility to keep provincial and club rugby in South Africa strong," he said, adding that he did not anticipate any challenge to the decision in the courts.

Neil Jenkins, the Wales full-back is to break new ground in his race to be fit for Saturday's meeting with France. The record Wales points- scorer has never worn a gumshield, but the protective device could guarantee he plays in Paris.

Jenkins cracked his cheekbone during Pontypridd's Welsh League victory over Caerphilly last weekend, the damaged area being just above his mouth. "Neil badly wants to play, and I want him to play," Kevin Bowring, the Wales coach, said after Jenkins had been measured for a gumshield. "But I don't want him to do any more damage and put himself out for four, six or eight weeks."

Bowring must also make decisions on the centre Allan Bateman, the flanker Steve Williams and the replacement utility forward Craig Quinnell, though he had good news from the wing Ieuan Evans, who has recovered from a virus.

Bateman, who underwent knee surgery a fortnight ago, is confident he can resume his midfield partnership with Scott Gibbs. Neath's Williams had an X-ray on a thumb injury following training, while Quinnell could need a scan after straining his knee.