England fear the worst as Jonny suffers new body blow

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The Independent Online

The Newcastle dressing room quickly fell silent on Friday night as the Falcons' players filed in after their single-point victory over Worcester. The club's director of rugby, John Fletcher, cautioned his team to keep the celebrations muted, after the injury suffered by the club's England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.

The club kept fairly quiet last night too, only commenting that their next statement on the injury to Wilkinson's right knee would be made tomorrow, once the results of an MRI scan conducted yesterday morning have been "fully analysed". Newcastle's doctor and physiotherapists are poring over the findings with a knee specialist and the Falcons preferred not to reveal where in Newcastle the scan took place, in case another one was required today.

The initial speculation suggested Wilkinson, 27, had damaged medial ligaments. The medial is regarded as less troublesome than the cruciate ligament, and Fletcher called it "the lesser of the two evils". There was also relief expressed that it was not the left knee Wilkinson has injured twice in his tale of utter woe since helping England to win the World Cup in 2003.

In the absence of an official verdict, speculation was that Wilkinson might be out for eight weeks, until the weekend of England's first Test of the season, against New Zealand at Twickenham. But even official estimates can be inaccurate. When Wilkinson injured the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Perpignan in January 2005 the recovery period was put at four to six weeks, but ended up being nine. In his comeback at Harlequins he aggravated the injury and missed another five weeks.

All told, Wilkinson has through his various ailments - neck/shoulder, haematoma of the biceps, knee, left shoulder, appendicitis, hernia of the groin - been forced to endure no fewer than nine lay-offs of more than one match since his glory night in Sydney. His longest run for Newcastle is 10 matches and he has sat out England's last 26 Tests and never taken up the captaincy awarded to him by Andy Robinson in the autumn of 2004.

Nor is it correct to claim that Wilkinson was injury-free before the World Cup. He was experiencing so-called "stingers" in his neck and shoulder towards the end of the 2000-01 season.

The England attack coach Brian Ashton was at Newcastle on Friday night, and he spoke with Fletcher after the match. Wilkinson had been named in England's early-season élite squad and in his first Newcastle appearance at Northampton he scored a try and linked well with his centres. Against Worcester, five minutes into the second half, his body buckled again.

It is not certain whether the damage was done by a tackle by Worcester's prop Chris Horsman or a couple of Newcastle players landing on Wilkinson as a ruck formed. After several minutes' treatment the injury was iced in the physios' room.

The right leg is the one Wilkinson uses to stand on for his goal- kicking, although he was forced to adjust his famous crouched action last season to accommodate the groin injury. Famously two-footed with his kicks from hand, he will be devastated if he has now damaged ligaments in both knees.

It may lead JP Wilkinson to conclude there is no justice in the world, and very little peace.

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