Rugby Union: Surgery blow for England centre

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The Independent Online
CLIVE WOODWARD'S efforts to stay afloat in an ocean of Australian whine were seriously hampered yesterday when Will Greenwood, one of the few English summer tourists able to boast a reputation in Brisbane and Sydney, dropped an untimely injury depth charge less than 24 hours after being named in the squad.

The Leicester Lion requires keyhole surgery to correct a shoulder condition and, if he is forced off the trip, Woodward will be deprived of his only internationally-experienced centre.

"We're both very disappointed at the situation, but we'll discuss the results when the surgery is concluded and I hope he can join us on tour," the England coach said.

Meanwhile, the Wallaby whinge machine remained in full production as John O'Neill, the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union, reacted to the inclusion of 17 uncapped players in Woodward's tour party by threatening to take the issue to next week's meeting of the International Board in Dublin. O'Neill accused Richmond, the Premiership club with four players in the party, of imposing unconstitutional conditions on their tour contingent - an allegation that left the Londoners flabbergasted.

"The sub-standard quality of the England party has had a devastating effect on ticket sales," he continued. "I'm left with the suspicion that a group of players have been coerced by their clubs into not travelling. I really hate having to stick my nose into someone else's backyard, but the backyard is international rugby and that's the fundamental issue we're fighting for."

There was a more philosophical response from New Zealand, where five of the seven tour matches will be played. Indeed, John Hart, the shrewd and statesmanlike All Black coach, offered Woodward some precious support by saying: "This England team is very exciting and I'm not sure it's as weak as people are trying to make out. We ourselves may have a number of new players."

However, David Moffett, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union chief executive, took a more antagonistic line. "As a result of this selection, we'll be urging the IB to impress upon the RFU that every other rugby country in the world believes the international game takes precedence over the club game. We're not going to be held to ransom by 20 English clubs."

Whether the IB is capable of exercising any judgement is a moot point, though; judging by yesterday's events, the governing body cannot even police its own disciplinary procedures.

Last week, four executive members ordered 82 member unions to cease playing contact with Premiership clubs - a message that clearly failed to reach Kenya, who have accepted an invitation to face Saracens, Wasps, Leicester and sundry other English lepers at the Middlesex Sevens on Saturday.

"I hadn't thought of the Sevens and I don't suppose anyone else thought of it either," admitted Hugh Penman, a member of the board's secretariat and an administrative specialist. "I'd raise it with the executive, but I won't have a chance until Monday." Nice to know the IB is ahead of the game.