Weakened Gloucester seek to pull out of crisis

Three England players miss Cherry and Whites' vital game with London Irish
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The Independent Online

It might have been a nice quiet weekend down Gloucester way, but in rugby, as in politics, there is always an "events, dear boy" element. By making it through to the semi-finals of the EDF Energy Cup, the West Countrymen waived their right to a free Saturday and therefore play London Irish at Kingsholm in the Guinness Premiership this afternoon. If few people imagined that the Exiles would be top of the pile at this stage of the proceedings, even fewer predicted the recent calamitous downturn in Gloucester's fortunes. Should the home side lose again today, there will be ructions.

Gloucester appeared to be enjoying life until they travelled to London Irish shortly before Christmas and found themselves on the rough end of a 40-pointer, which rocked the club. They then made an almighty botch of things in gale-force winds at lowly Newcastle before losing two Heineken Cup games in six days, thereby bringing their European campaign to a premature close. One way or another, it has been a gruesome six weeks.

To make matters worse, they have lost key players to Six Nations preparation – the full-back Olly Morgan, the centre Mike Tindall, the No 8 Luke Narraway – while London Irish have been given some of theirs back. Both Delon Armitage and Nick Kennedy will be in the visitors' starting line-up this afternoon, courtesy of the England management's desire to see them in competitive action. If the combustible Gloucester coach Dean Ryan is less than amused by this development, it is not difficult to see why.

Not that the Exiles were wholly happy with their lot yesterday. After announcing the signing of the Munster back Paul Warwick on a two-year deal beginning in July, the club learnt through "informal channels" that the player was seeking to withdraw from the deal after receiving a revised offer from the Irish province. A spokesman for the Premiership side said clarification was being sought, adding that "all necessary action" would be taken to protect the best interests of the club.

Gloucester will give a first Premiership start to the 19-year-old midfielder Henry Trinder, a big hit during his loan spell with the National League One club Moseley, where he scored eight tries in 10 appearances. They also have Gareth Delve, the aggressive No 8 from Wales, back in harness after injury, as well as Greg Somerville, who suffered a detached retina in the game at London Irish.

Talking of hospital cases, David Strettle will turn out for Harlequins in their game against Northampton at the Stoop today after recovering from a third dose of Beckhamitis – more formally known as metatarsal trouble – sustained in October. Northampton, meanwhile, have announced the immediate departure of the celebrated New Zealand outside-half Carlos Spencer by mutual consent. Spencer has found his first-team chances limited by the fast-developing Stephen Myler this term.

Mathew Tait, the third England squad player released for Premiership duty by the national manager Martin Johnson prior to the Six Nations team announcement on Tuesday, will start for Sale at Worcester. Tait has become a jack of all trades and master of none since tripping the light fantastic in the 2007 World Cup final, and as a result, no one has a clear idea whether he is a full-back, a wing or a centre. Johnson indicated recently that he might challenge for one of the wing positions against Italy at Twickenham a week today. So where are Sale playing him this afternoon? In midfield.

There is still concern, albeit of a different kind, over the Bath flanker Michael Lipman, who was badly concussed during his club's Heineken Cup draw with Toulouse six days ago. He took no active part in training during England's week-long camp in Portugal and it was unclear yesterday whether he would join the squad at their Surrey base ahead of the Italy game.