England were dealt a double injury blow yesterday, only 72 hours before the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Twickenham.
The full-back Iain Balshaw has a groin injury which prevented him from taking part in training yesterday and the replacement flanker Lewis Moody is suffering with a shoulder problem. Neither player has been written out of the team yet, though Balshaw's Gloucester team-mate, Olly Morgan, has been called up from the Saxons squad and Wasps' Tom Rees, who was also due to play against Italy A in Exeter tomorrow night, has been drafted in as cover for the Leicester back-row forward.
Balshaw and Moody will be assessed by England's medical team today and a decision on their fitness to face the Scots will be taken.
If Balshaw is out, the England head coach Brian Ashton could put the Newcastle centre Mathew Tait on the wing and move Jason Robinson or Josh Lewsey to full-back. A more unlikely option would be to put the uncapped Morgan straight into the starting line-up. Rees for Moody on the bench, however, would be a straight swap.
Yesterday's news on the Bristol No 8 Dan Ward-Smith, who looked a certainty to make his Test debut until he dislocated a kneecap playing against Northampton last weekend, was as grim as it could be.
It had been accepted that Ward-Smith would miss the whole of the Six Nations series, but Paul Tomkins, the Bristol physiotherapist, said last night: "A scan confirmed that he has dislocated his patella and rup-tured his patella tendon.
"He had surgery on Monday evening and is now in plaster and faces a lengthy period of rehabilitation. He is a dedicated trainer and he won't shirk the hard work."
Tomkins would not be drawn into stating how long Ward-Smith would be out of action, but his absence is likely to be on the long side of three to six months.
The Wales coach Gareth Jenkins is due to name his side to face Ireland in Cardiff on Sunday this afternoon, but still needs to find out if the wingers Shane Williams and Mark Jones have recovered from hip and ankle problems respectively.
Jenkins' problems are compounded by the fact that Gareth Thomas, the likely Wales full-back, will face a European Rugby Cup Limited disciplinary hearing in Dublin at 10 o'clock this morning. Thomas will answer misconduct charges arising from his part in the altercation between his Toulouse team-mate Trevor Brennan and some Ulster fans on 21 January.
Brennan's hearing has been postponed after the submission by the former Ireland lock's representatives of an application for an injunction to delay the hearing. The complaint against Brennan, under the Heineken Cup 2006-07 disciplinary rules, is that he allegedly entered one of the seating areas of the stadium and assaulted a spectator during the Pool Five match at Stade Ernest Wallon.
Neither of Jenkins' injured wingers stirred up much optimism yesterday. Jones rates his chances of recovering from ankle ligament damage at 50-50 and Williams struggled with his movement in training.
The two players were due to be assessed yesterday but Jenkins is clearly keen to give them as long as possible to prove their fitness before ruling either or both of them out.
Williams, who has scored 28 tries in his 43 appearances for Wales, said: "I want to be playing on Sunday and I have been training my nuts off. I literally meant that, to get back in time.
"It has been a hard couple of weeks. The injury is in an area where I only need to cough to be reminded of it. It is an injury that no one has - and I have had it twice. It is unbelievable.
"It will be disappointing if I miss out because I feel this year has gone well for me so far."
There were also injuries yesterday for England's Under-20 team. The Wasps centre Dominic Waldouck is out of tomorrow's match with Scotland at Bath thanks to a hamstring injury. Harlequins' Adam Thompstone replaces him.
Waldouck'sWasps colleague, the fly-half Danny Cipriani, will have an ankle injury assessed this evening. Another Quin, Seb Jewell, is on standby.Reuse content