Rugby Union: Wilkinson doubt puts Newcastle on alert

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The Independent Online
NEWCASTLE FACE the possibility of having to blood a rookie outside-half in their Allied Dunbar Premiership match against Richmond at Kingston Park tomorrow night.

The Falcons' crisis at No 10, which began when Rob Andrew suffered a dislocated shoulder at Wasps on Sunday, ruling him out for the rest of the season, deepened yesterday with the news that Jonny Wilkinson was having treatment on a twisted ankle.

The England centre is rated as only 50-50 for tomorrow's game, so Newcastle have put the England Under 21 fly-half David Walder on stand-by. Walder, a local product, has played just one first XV game in the Cheltenham and Gloucester Cup. If called upon to play, he would find Richmond a far different prospect.

Wilkinson was remaining optimistic about his chances of playing in his preferred position, one in which the England coach, Clive Woodward, has been reluctant to select him because of his lack of experience at club level. However, the timing of Wilkinson's move inside, if he does play, could have been better.

Wilkinson said: "I want to play at No 10, but not under these circumstances. I've enjoyed being outside Rob. This match against Richmond is going to be a massive challenge for us so soon after the Wasps game, particularly as I will be playing somewhere I haven't for a long time. But this team is very good when we have our backs to the wall."

There are also worries for the Tynesiders over Vai'aiga Tuigamala, who has a bruised thigh, but Tony Underwood is making a good recovery from a dead leg. Both players were injured against Wasps.

Richmond, like Newcastle are pushing for one of six European spots in the Premiership, but realistically two have already gone to the first and second, Leicester and Northampton respectively. The London side have games in hand but a lot still to do. They were boosted yesterday by the news that their Argentine scrum-half Agustin Pichot is back after turning out against a World XV in Buenos Aires at the weekend.

The debate about whether the Saracens prop, Roberto Grau, used his head illegally against the Leicester centre Craig Joiner has still not been settled. The Leicester manager, Dean Richards, said last night: "I've looked at the video and it is unclear what happened. We have another video and I am going to look at it tomorrow.

"If I am satisfied that something has gone on then my first thoughts would be to find out what Saracens are going to do about it. I will be consulting with Mark Evans [the Saracens director of rugby] and then obviously we will make a decision. I have spoken to Craig Joiner and, the thing is, he did not receive an injury, therefore he does not want to make a meal out of it."

Richards also revealed that he is studying another clip, or should that be footage, of an incident in which the Tigers No 8 Martin Corry appeared to be trodden on by a Saracens player and suffered a cut on the bridge of his nose. "It seems to have been accidental," said Richards, but he intends to have a chat with Evans about that one as well.

Meanwhile the Saracens coach, Francois Pienaar, says he believes the Rugby Football Union should change its rules to allow clubs to cite players who have already been dealt with by the referee. "If the referee books or warns a player for one thing when they actually did something else," explained Pienaar, "then we should able to cite that player."

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