Heineken Cup: Andy Farrell to be frustrated as Sarries stick Joel Tomkins on their bench

England coach, who has problem in No 13 slot, will not see potential solution start Heineken Cup tie

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Andy Farrell, the England backs coach, will be at Wembley this evening to cast an eye over some red rose talent ahead of the opening autumn Test against Australia a fortnight Saturday. High on his checklist is an appraisal of Joel Tomkins, hot favourite for an international debut at outside centre. What better way of assessing a newcomer's form than witnessing him in one-on-one combat with a French midfielder as hard and ruthless as Florian Fritz?

Frustratingly, both Farrell and a record 50,000-plus crowd may have to wait a good deal longer than expected to see Tomkins and Fritz go at it on behalf of Saracens and Toulouse respectively. Mark McCall, the Londoners' rugby director, has picked the unusually versatile American back Chris Wyles in his starting line-up, with Tomkins on the bench.

As Wyles is one of the former English champions' most reliable performers – his value to the club is infinitely greater than his comparatively low profile would suggest – and Saracens are fond of operating a rotation policy in certain positions, McCall's decision is some way short of jaw-dropping. And besides, there will be plenty to interest Farrell from the kick-off, given the presence of his son Owen at outside-half, Alex Goode at full-back, the Vunipola brothers in the pack and a rejuvenated Chris Ashton on the right wing.

All the same, the No 13 position is an issue for England in the absence of Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt – not so much a selection headache as a full-blown migraine. Farrell would surely have expected to be watching Tomkins, a fellow cross-coder from rugby league land, from the very earliest stages, when Toulouse will unleash a high-quality back division boasting such luminaries as Maxime Medard, Yoann Huget, Clement Poitrenaud and the All Black string-puller Luke McAlister.

The French side, four-time champions of Europe and still one of the two or three biggest box-office draws in the club game, are travelling in strength following their predictable bonus-point victory over the weak Italian team Zebre in the opening round of pool matches. The flanker Thierry Dusautoir, who led France in the last World Cup final, is restored to the loose combination while the Test lock Yoann Maestri is back in the engine room.

"We will have to be much more rigorous against Saracens," said their long-serving coach, Guy Noves. "They have a good victory behind them from their visit to Connacht, which means we will also have to win there – something that puts us under pressure already. Also, they haven't been beaten in the English league this season. It shows that this group is a difficult one."

If, as Saracens expect, the crowd projections turn out to be correct, the gate will surpass the Wembley audience for the meeting with Leinster three years ago – the current high mark for a pool game in the UK. It will also lend weight to the Anglo-French campaign to set up a new cross-border tournament. One of the arguments put forward by the "breakaway" brigade is that the Heineken Cup organisers have failed to extract maximum value from the competition and as evidence, they point to last season's semi-final between Saracens and Toulon at Twickenham. Embarrassingly, a mere 25,000 turned up to see Jonny Wilkinson and company that day.

Leicester go into tonight's must-win match with Treviso at Welford Road with a fistful of changes from the team beaten in Belfast a week ago. Blaine Scully replaces Miles Benjamin on the wing, Graham Kitchener takes over from Louis Deacon at lock and Thomas Waldrom gets a run at No 8 ahead of Jordan Crane.

Concussion lawsuits 'inevitable'

Rugby faces the prospect of an NFL-style lawsuit due to the long-term impact of concussions, according to one of Britain's leading experts in motor neuroscience.

Nearly two months ago more than 4,500 former American football players including former Philadelphia Eagles running back Kevin Turner agreed a $765m (£476m) settlement for concussion-related brain injuries.

The International Rugby Board has been accused by its former medical advisor Dr Barry O'Driscoll of failing to place sufficient importance on treating concussion, a claim the governing body denies.

Dr Michael Grey, a reader in motor neuroscience at the University of Birmingham's School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, has begun a fresh study into concussion in sport.

"If we do nothing when we know there's a problem, then I could see that type of lawsuit occurring," he said.