Bell set to return as injuries take toll

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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson is set to fill one of the huge gaps left in his England squad by a tighthead who won his two caps almost five years ago and who had given up on ever returning to the international fold.

It is understood the England coach has already been in contact with Bath's Duncan Bell to tell him to prepare for a call-up to Monday's revised squad for next month's Tests against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina. The stunned 35-year-old's main mission now will be to avoid joining the ever-lengthening injury list against Newcastle on Saturday.

Bell's inclusion has come on the back of Phil Vickery's neck problem – which will keep the former England captain out of action for three months – as well as injuries to several other props including, most notably, Andrew Sheridan who was forced to withdraw on Monday with a dislocated shoulder.

The re-emergence of Bell from the wilderness is indicative of the options available to Johnson. He made his international debut at the grand old age of 30 but after sustaining a serious leg injury that sidelined him for 17 months, he declared his England days to be "behind me". The qualified mortgage adviser is not even "full-time" – in the truest sense of the description – as in his own words: "I share my time equally between my pro rugby career and running my financial services business." The loan applications may now have to wait a little while.

Johnson was forced to act as there are only three fit props in his elite squad – Julian White, Tim Payne and David Wilson. The crisis at prop has been replicated throughout the positions and yesterday Simon Shaw, the Lions lock, stated his belief that this worrying build-up of injuries is not all to do with the game becoming too physical.

"There is an argument that people are spending too much time in the gym," said the 36-year-old, who will himself be missing from England's first two tests because of a fractured metartasal. "We shouldn't be trying to create gym monkeys. It's the expectation on the players to be fit for an entire season. It's like the Jonny Wilkinson syndrome when he would train through his summer holidays. People question Jonny's fitness record but that might be because of the amount of training he did."