Giteau operation hands England unexpected boost

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The Independent Online

If Andy Robinson's lightweight England tourists are likely to need all the help they can get in Australia next month, the absence of the most valuable player in Wallaby country is as good a place to start as any. Matt Giteau, the subject of a bank-busting, multi-million dollar transfer move by the Perth-based Super 14 franchise Western Force, is expected to miss both the Sydney and Melbourne Tests after undergoing knee surgery.

Specialists say the 23-year-old midfielder, equally adept at outside-half or inside centre, will need a six-week break if he is to regain fitness in time for the forthcoming Tri-Nations series. Sceptics say he will require at least that long to count his money after agreeing to move west from ACT Brumbies on a four-year deal worth more than £600,000 in basic wages and corporate sponsorship - an agreement that has sent the Australian Rugby Union into a tailspin.

Should Giteau miss both Tests, the Wallabies will find themselves in an even greater state of flux than anticipated. Armed with a brand new coaching team - the Queensland veteran John Connolly, the World Cup-winning hooker Michael Foley and the Gérard Depardieu-lookalike Scott Johnson - and awash with back-line talent, there are still no obvious signs of a resurgence up front. Without Giteau to make the most of what little possession they win these days, they could yet be vulnerable to the least experienced England party to leave these shores in eight years.

Wales, meanwhile, have drafted two revered old-stagers - the record-breaking marksman Neil Jenkins and the ferociously committed hooker Robin McBryde - to their coaching team for the June internationals in Argentina. The pair have been working at the Welsh Rugby Union's high performance department since retiring from active duty, but Gareth Jenkins, the new national coach, believes they have a contribution to make at the top end of the Red Dragon operation.

"The set-piece is a huge part of the international game and by including Robin, we will develop specialist coaching skills in that area," Jenkins said yesterday. "Kicking is also key to our strategy. It is one of the big challenges of Test rugby and to have someone of Neil's expertise on board is superb. Both coaches are former Lions, and widely respected within the game."

Another coach on the up and up, Paul Grayson of Northampton, has agreed a five-year extension to his contract at Franklin's Gardens after guiding the Midlanders from the bottom reaches of the Premiership to a Heineken Cup qualifying place for next season.

"Paul is still developing as a coach, but the board is more than happy with his progress," said the Northampton chairman, Keith Barwell. "He is totally committed to Saints, a club he has already served for 13 years, and shares the same desire for silverware and quality rugby as the board, the players and the supporters."

On the playing front, the Bath captain, Steve Borthwick, has signed a new two-year contract at the Recreation Ground.

Scotland squad (v Barbarians, Murrayfield, 31 May, and for the two-Test tour of South Africa this summer): Backs: M Blair (Edinburgh Gunners), M Di Rollo (Edinburgh Gunners), A Henderson (Glasgow Warriors), S Lamont (Northampton Saints), B MacDougall (Border Reivers), D Parks (Glasgow Warriors), C Paterson (Edinburgh Gunners), S Pinder (Glasgow Warriors), G Ross (Leeds Tykes), H Southwell (Edinburgh Gunners), S Webster (Edinburgh Gunners). Forwards: K Brown (Border Reivers), B Douglas (Border Reivers), D Hall (Edinburgh Gunners), N Hines (Perpignan), A Hogg (Edinburgh Gunners), A Kellock (Edinburgh Gunners), G Kerr (Leeds Tykes), S Lawson (Glasgow Warriors), D Macfadyen (Glasgow Warriors), S MacLeod (Border Reivers), S Murray (Edinburgh Gunners), J Petrie (Glasgow Warriors), C Smith (Edinburgh Gunners), J White (Sale Sharks, capt).