Concern for Woodward as Dawson and Balshaw sit out training

The last time a couple of England players missed training with "inconsequential little niggles", to use the precise medical terminology, Clive Woodward ended up losing one of them, Dan Luger, for a Test match against France that same weekend and another, Alex King, for the entire duration of the World Cup.

The red rose army's approach to the Hippocratic oath was under discussion once again yesterday when Matthew Dawson and Iain Balshaw, two of those involved in Sunday's World Cup opener with Georgia, were unable to take part in the team run.

Both were said to be suffering from "general soreness", which prompted one observer to ask: "Wasn't he killed in the American Civil War?" Joking aside, the news caused a flurry of concern among England's followers. Given that the unfortunate King withdrew from the squad less than four hours after the team doctor, Simon Kemp, had insisted he would be fit for selection, the management's refusal to enter into any discussion about either Dawson or Balshaw raised many an eyebrow.

Yesterday, Dawson was named in the starting line-up ahead of Kyran Bracken for the scrum-half position. Balshaw's inclusion among the replacements was accompanied by a ringing endorsement from the coaching staff, who said the Bath back was putting varying degrees of pressure on Josh Lewsey, Jason Robinson and Ben Cohen, who have been playing the big matches as an attacking threesome since Lewsey returned to international rugby last season. Woodward will not want to lose either man to injury at this early stage.

There were no such traumas for New Zealand yesterday. Ali Williams, the line-out specialist from Auckland who caused something of a fuss in Wellington last June by trampling all over Lewsey's youthful visage, was declared fit and almost ready by the All Blacks' medical team. Williams, who had been suffering from a broken bone in his foot, will not face the Italians in Melbourne on Saturday. Neither will Aaron Mauger, the influential centre, who has minor groin trouble, but he will definitely play a part in the pool stage. This weekend, Brad Thorn and Daniel Carter of Canterbury will replace Williams and Mauger respectively.

The French, meanwhile, spent the day celebrating the return of Tony Marsh, their outstanding New Zealand-born midfielder, whose career was threatened by testicular cancer. Marsh will play at outside-centre against Fiji in Brisbane on Saturday - his first Test for 14 months - having received the all-clear following a course of chemotherapy.

"I'm very, very happy, and a little surprised," said Marsh, who had expected Damien Traille of Pau to partner Yannick Jauzion in midfield. "The doctors diagnosed my cancer early and I started the chemotherapy treatment in March. I lost my hair, my appetite and my sense of taste. But everything has returned to normal, I am glad to say. Now, I see the past as the past. I don't want to think about it any more."

Sadly, the Fijians were not feeling so buoyant. Their prop, Isaia Rasila, has returned home to Sigatoka following the sudden death of his mother, and will miss the game with France. "Knowing Isaia, he will follow a basic training regime, but it is a difficult situation because Fijian protocol means a funeral takes three or four days to complete," the team spokesman, Charlie Charters, said.

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