If Steve Borthwick imagined there was any easy way back into the England squad after being dumped from a Himalayan height during the summer, he has been disabused of the notion in the starkest of manners. Martin Johnson, the national manager, spurned his long-time captain for the second time in four months by calling up the uncapped Wasps forward Dan Ward-Smith, a part-time lock at best, as cover for the injured Simon Shaw ahead of the meeting with New Zealand at Twickenham in 11 days.
As Borthwick trained with Saracens yesterday, there are no concerns over his fitness. This is purely a matter of Johnson's preference, and as things stand, he prefers at least five second-rowers – Shaw, Ward-Smith, Tom Palmer, Courtney Lawes and Dave Attwood – to the man he appointed as captain on seizing control of red-rose affairs in 2008 and stuck with until losing him to injury before the Six Nations finale in Paris last March. Borthwick told this newspaper a little over a week ago that he if he were playing at 45, he would still want to represent his country. At this rate, he will have to wait longer than that for another opportunity.
Shaw, a firm favourite to feature against the All Blacks if a problem with his 37-year-old calf muscle clears up over the next few days, was not alone in renewing acquaintanceship with the England medical team yesterday. Riki Flutey, another calf sufferer, was under treatment, as were the Bath prop David Wilson, struggling with a sore back, and the Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie, who suffered a rib injury during the Premiership match with Sale last Friday.
Predictably, Johnson summoned the hard-tackling Saracens centre Brad Barritt as cover for the Anglicised Flutey, who will be extremely fortunate to make the match against his native countrymen. There was also a logic to Tom Wood's appearance among the elite, given that the Northampton breakaway has been in prime form all season – more than can be said for Tom Rees of Wasps, who looks wholly out of sorts, and Andy Saull of Saracens, still playing his way back into shape after injury.
Far less predictably, the manager called in the 20-year-old Harlequins prop Joe Marler, whose early Premiership performances have been almost as encouraging as his hair-do is eye-catching – an extravagant arrangement that qualifies him for the title "First of the Front-Row Mohicans". Marler was in the thick of the action at Gloucester on Saturday, and by leapfrogging the likes of the Bath veteran Duncan Bell and, more significantly, the highly rated young London Irish forward Alex Corbisiero, he has put himself on the fast track to England honours.
Wales have lost their Lions full-back Lee Byrne for the first three of their autumn internationals. Byrne fractured his right hand during the Magners League game between Ospreys and Glasgow and will be in a cast for much of November. Chris Czekaj, the Cardiff Blues wing last capped against Canada in 2009, has been called up in his stead.
Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premiership Rugby, has raised the spectre of a sharp increase in international fixtures and urged the International Rugby Board to police its own regulations covering player release for Test duty more rigorously. "Governing bodies are chipping away at the regulations by organising Tests outside agreed windows," he said. "International rugby is a premium product. We'd hate to see the sport go the way of cricket, where the importance of international competition is being lost."Reuse content