England wait on Brown in black week for injuries

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The Gloucester lock, widely favoured to make his Test debut against the Wallabies a fortnight on Saturday, is struggling with a neck condition. He will be re-assessed by specialists over the next 48 hours, but there is considerable doubt, not least among his colleagues at Kingsholm, that he will make a full recovery in time to take his anticipated bow at Twickenham.

At least the southern hemisphere did not escape completely. Luke McAlister, a midfielder blessed with all the talents as the British and Irish Lions discovered to their cost last summer, has dropped out of the New Zealand party, having been diagnosed with an injury in some unpronounceable corner of his knee. He will have surgery on Friday, just as his countrymen fly out for their Grand Slam tour of these islands. Nick Evans of Otago will be sitting in his business-class seat.

This was not the end of the negative vibes for Graham Henry and the rest of the All Black management. There is still concern over the prop Greg Somerville, who tore a calf muscle earlier this month, and Ali Williams, the aggressive lock from Auckland, who has shoulder problems. "We are holding out a little hope for Greg, but we need to see significant improvement," said Henry, who called up Saimone Taumoepeau, one of Williams' provincial colleagues, as front-row cover.

Wales need cover in all sorts of areas, thanks to the misfortunes suffered by the likes of Gavin Henson, Ryan Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Tom Shanklin - four Lions of renown, one way or the other. Yesterday, the national coach Mike Ruddock called one uncapped player, the Llanelli Scarlets full-back Lee Byrne, into the squad for next week's meeting with the All Blacks at the expense of the more familiar Rhys Williams, and held fire on two more, the Guinness Premiership-based props Chris Horsman of Worcester and Ben Broster of Saracens.

Horsman was up before a disciplinary tribunal last night, and Ruddock was waiting on the outcome before making his final choice.

"Lee has hit the headlines in recent weeks with a string of outstanding performances for the Scarlets," Ruddock said. "Those performances fully justify his selection. He is a hugely exciting footballer with the pace and size to break through defences. He has a fantastic left foot, can play in more than one position and has been given the nod over Rhys because of his rich vein of form."

Gareth Thomas, another exiled Welshman, was reinstated as captain, having impressed all and sundry with his positive leadership on the Lions tour after Brian O'Driscoll's premature departure from active duty. "He is an inspiration within the squad - a real energiser and someone who leads by his own shining example," said the coach of the Toulouse full-back.

As expected, the French have recalled Thomas Castaignède - but not as an outside-half, as had been predicted. The Saracens player, watched by the coach Bernard Laporte in last weekend's Heineken Cup victory over Biarritz, has been drafted in as cover for the full-back and midfield positions, with Frédéric Michalak and Yann Delaigue the competing No 10s.

The Tricolores will be without a raft of incapacitated first-choicers, including the wing Christophe Dominici, centre Damien Traille, hooker William Servat, lock Pascal Pape and flankers Serge Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy. In addition, the Bourgoin No 8 Julien Bonnaire is out of circulation, having been suspended for "brutality" in a domestic championship match. Only the French tell it quite like that.

Wales squad

* Wales Squad for the November tests against New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and Australia:

Backs: L Byrne (Llanelli Scarlets), G Thomas (Toulouse, capt), K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons), C Czekaj (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys), M Taylor (Sale Sharks), S Parker (Ospreys), M Watkins (Llanelli Scarlets), C Sweeney (Newport-Gwent Dragons), S Jones (Clermont Auvergne), N Robinson (Cardiff Blues), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets), G Cooper (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Phillips (Cardiff Blues) Forwards: D Jones (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), M Davies (Gloucester), H Bennett (Ospreys), B Cockbain (Ospreys), I Gough (Newport-Gwent Dragons), R Sidoli (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport-Gwent Dragons), C Charvis (Newcastle), J Thomas (Ospreys), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Sowden-Taylor (Cardiff Blues), M Owen (Newport-Gwent Dragons, vice-capt), A Popham (Llanelli Scarlets).