Barkley operation deepens England's Six Nations gloom

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The Independent Online

Andy Robinson, the England head coach, was dealt a double blow last night. The Bath centre Olly Barkley has effectively been ruled out of the Six Nations Championship and the season of the Gloucester prop Phil Vickery is over.

Barkley yesterday underwent an operation his right thumb, dislocated against Leinster last weekend, and will be out for up to six weeks, leaving him with an outside chance, if fit, of squeezing into the England team for the final match against Ireland at Twickenham.

Originally it had been thought that Barkley, 24, would be available for the Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Murrayfield on 25 February.

Robinson will feel the Barkley blow more keenly than Vickery's loss, because he was not harbouring great hopes of the tighthead prop being available for this year's Six Nations campaign.

However, prior to the announcement that Vickery is to undergo a back operation tomorrow, the Cornishman would have been in with a chance of going on England's summer tour of Australia. But the operation, to relieve pressure on a nerve root caused by a disc protrusion, requires some three months rehabilitation and there is every likelihood that club and country will write off any possible return to action by Vickery until the start of next season, to ensure he has fully recovered.

It will be Vickery's third back operation in three years, his first was in February 2003, and his second in May the following year. Vickery, who has 47 England caps, has had a rotten run with injuries, undergoing a shoulder operation in 2000, then suffering a broken arm and a fractured eye socket last season.

There was some good news yesterday for Robinson, though. Pat Sanderson, the Worcester captain and England flanker, has recovered from a back injury which kept him out of the game for six weeks. Sanderson, leads the Midlanders in their Premiership match against Bristol at the Memorial Stadium tonight.

Jonny Wilkinson is still not fit enough to return to the Newcastle team. He has been omitted from the side to face Saracens at Kingston Park tomorrow. Rob Andrew, the Falcons director of rugby explained: "When he's fit we'll consider him, but at the moment we're just letting him recover and we'd be stupid to force the issue."

The Premiership leaders, Sale, learned yesterday that they will be without Elvis Seveali'i up to three months after the Samoan centre damaged knee ligaments against Munster last weekend.

It was revealed yesterday that the Cardiff head coach, David Young, attempted to resign his post earlier this week only to have his offer rejected by the Blues chairman, Peter Thomas, and the rest of the board. The club recently slumped to successive Heineken Cup defeats against Perpignan and Leeds, which prompted Young's drastic course of action.