Fracture fears cloud Dawson's exit plans

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The Independent Online

Matt Dawson, the World Cup-winning scrum-half who decided against putting his body through another season of torment despite the temptation of helping England to defend the Webb Ellis Trophy in France next year, expects to learn today if his planned early retirement will happen even sooner than anticipated.

Dawson underwent a scan on his injured foot yesterday evening. If the results are as negative as feared by the physiotherapists who have been treating him over the past 48 hours, he can consider himself an ex-rugby player.

The 33-year-old Wasps half-back was hurt during his club's Premiership defeat by Saracens at Vicarage Road on Sunday and left the ground wearing a surgical boot. Initial reports suggested he was suffering from an ankle problem, but Wasps issued a more accurate diagnosis yesterday. Dawson may have fractured a bone in his foot, and there may be ligament damage, too. The best-case scenario will see him sidelined for a month, giving him an outside chance of recovering in time for the Premiership final at Twickenham, always assuming the reigning champions make it for a fourth successive year. The worst-case scenario is thank you and good night.

The Gloucester captain, Adam Balding, hopes to play some part in the European Challenge Cup semi-final with Worcester at Kingsholm on Saturday. "I had 50 minutes with the reserves on Monday to show I'm back in terms of fitness and I'd love to participate this weekend," the injury-prone No 8 said.

"It has been a frustrating time. I've missed 17 weeks of rugby for one reason or another and it's hard to find consistency when your season doesn't get going. I'd like to contribute to this game on the pitch, but if I'm watching from the bench I'll still want to be a part of things. I've been really tested this year, but I believe it will make me a better player in the long run."

Gloucester have not lost to their neighbours since Worcester claimed a place in the top flight at the start of last season. Possible Heineken Cup qualification will be a major motivation for the visitors, however. While Gloucester have every chance of making next season's élite European competition by finishing in the top five of the Premiership, their opponents are not so well served by their league position.

Balding is not counting his chickens. "Although we look pretty certain in the league in terms of Heineken Cup qualification, this tournament still means a lot to us," he said. "If we relax and rely on our Premiership finish, Sod's Law might mean something goes wrong. And anyway, silverware is always very important to a club. We want to finish the season on a high."

England, guaranteed six places in the Heineken Cup, will earn a seventh if Bath defeat Biarritz in the semi-final of the tournament in San Sebastian this weekend. However, the 1998 champions will have to win the competition to qualify themselves.