Injury forces Blair out of Calcutta Cup clash

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Who'd be a Blair? The question has been asked in political circles for quite some time now, but rugby union is catching up fast. Yesterday, the Scotland hierarchy confirmed that Mike Blair, one of the more industrious scrum-halves in international rugby, would miss the Calcutta Cup match with England at the start of next month because of a shoulder injury suffered in a Magners League game. By way of keeping it in the family, he joins his younger brother David on the casualty list.

Blair junior suffered a serious back injury - a double fracture of the transverse process, according to the doctors - during Sale's thrilling Guinness Premiership victory over Gloucester at Edgeley Park last Saturday.

The club are awaiting a further diagnosis, which will establish whether or not the inexperienced outside-half damaged his kidneys into the bargain. Sale officials were not best pleased by the challenge from James Forrester, the Gloucester No 8, that left their player in distress, but any decision to cite Forrester will be left to the independent match commissioner.

By coincidence, Forrester was in the news for wholly positive reasons yesterday. The 25-year-old England second-string squad member signed a contract extension keeping him at Kingsholm until 2010, thereby joining a number of other highly effective players - the centres Anthony Allen and Jack Adams, the prop Jack Forster and the lock Jonathan Pendlebury - in re-committing himself to the West Country club.

Mike Blair, meanwhile, is expected to be hors de combat for anything between six and eight weeks, having torn ligaments during Edinburgh's victory over Llanelli Scarlets five days ago. His misfortune leaves Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, up a gum tree ahead of the Six Nations Championship, for Chris Cusiter, the other senior half-back on the scene, remains incapacitated after dislocating his shoulder during the Test against the Pacific Islands in November.

Rory Lawson, an impressive performer for Gloucester this season, has every chance of starting against England in a little over three weeks' time.

If the Scots are likely to arrive at Twickenham with limited options at No 9, the South Africans, who loom very large in England's thoughts at present, are busily strengthening their squad for the new southern hemisphere season.

Schalk Burger, a stunning back-row forward on his day, has recovered from a nasty neck injury and will make a comeback appearance for his Super 14 province, the Stormers, in a warm-up match this weekend.

Voted "world player of the year" in 2004, the blond blind-side flanker required surgery after injuring himself in a Test match against the Scots last June. During his absence, the Springboks lost five games in succession and won only five all year, one of them against England at Twickenham.

They are scheduled to play two internationals against Brian Ashton's team in late May and early June before meeting them in a hugely significant fixture in the pool stage of the World Cup in September.