Geraghty recall hints at starting role for Cipriani

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The Independent Online

Eleven months ago, Shane Geraghty materialised in the England squad from the back end of nowhere and promptly contributed to an unexpected Six Nations victory for Brian Ashton's ailing side by running a few rings round the French at Twickenham. Precious little has been seen of the young midfielder since – he was an early victim of the World Cup culling process during the summer, after which his club rugby with London Irish was interrupted by injury – but yesterday, he was recalled to the England squad for this weekend's awkward match with Italy in Rome.

On the face of it, Ashton did not need to include an inside back as part of his draft. The casualty fall-out from Saturday evening's extraordinary exercise in spontaneous combustion could hardly have been more toxic, but while Geraghty performed impressively for the second-string Saxons team last Friday night, he is hardly a like-for-like replacement for Mike Tindall or David Strettle, two of those invalided out of the contest with Wales. (Tindall was spending a third night under observation in Hammersmith hospital, where doctors were keeping a close eye on his damaged liver).

The decision to summon Geraghty suggests Ashton is at least thinking of including him on the bench for the difficult business at Stadio Flaminio on Sunday afternoon. This in turn would appear to indicate that Danny Cipriani, the 20-year-old Wasp trumpeted by many as the natural heir to Jonny Wilkinson at outside-half, is being considered as a starter – not at Wilkinson's expense, despite the miserable poverty of the senior man's efforts in the second half against Wales, but elsewhere in the back division.

Wilkinson was unusually defensive about his performance in his newspaper column, which also featured a forceful protestation of innocence in respect of the swinging-arm tackle with which he felled Jonathan Thomas, early in the game. Many felt he should have been cited for dangerous play – certainly, a Danny Grewcock or a Julian White would have been castigated from one end of the Six Nations to the other had they perpetrated the act – but there is nothing of the ruffian about Wilkinson, and yesterday's 50-hour deadline passed without so much as a murmur from the tournament's disciplinary department.

Ashton sent for further reinforcements yesterday: Magnus Lund of Sale, a first-choice player this time last season, and the uncapped Lee Dickson of Newcastle. The move for Lund was obvious, given the injuries suffered by the two top-ranked specialist open-side flankers, Lewis Moody and Tom Rees, during the first half of Saturday's match. Dickson, a 22-year-old scrum-half, was more of a left-field call that reinforced the impression that the No 9 position is one of serious weakness for England, and will continue as such until the best half-back in the country, Harry Ellis of Leicester, recovers from a serious problem with his knee ligaments.

Dickson has an interesting background. Born in Germany, he played his first representative rugby for Scotland at under-19 level, all of which makes him seem about as English as Lesley Vainikolo. However, he was picked up by England as an under-21 while the Scots were still very much interested in his services, and last summer he made the Saxons cut for the annual Churchill Cup tournament, making three appearances off the bench.

Wales, positively cock-a-hoop after their first win in south-west London for 20 years, had their style cramped just a little yesterday when it was confirmed that Alun Wyn Jones would miss their second-round meeting with the Scots at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. The Ospreys lock has an ankle injury and has been replaced in the squad by Deiniol Jones of Cardiff Blues.

As expected, the Scotland full-back Rory Lamont is also off-limits for the game. Lamont ended Sunday's defeat by the French at Murrayfield with injuries to his left shoulder and left ankle – an unusual combination, to say the least. Still, it could be worse. Compared with poor old Tindall, he is positively blooming with health.

France have named an unchanged squad for Saturday's visit of Ireland. Scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Élissalde is included, even though he came off after an hour of Sunday's win against Scotland nursing a knock to his left ankle. Centre David Marty and prop Nicolas Mas are retained after replacing the injured Florian Fritz (fractured fibula) and Jean-Baptiste Poux (thigh) respectively in the squad last week. Centre Yannick Jauzion is back from injury but cannot force his way into coach Marc Lièvremont's plans in the wake of their impressive Murrayfield triumph.

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