This is getting silly. England's chances of piecing together something resembling a first-choice back division for the Six Nations opener against France in Paris at the beginning of February took another heavy blow when the Wasps wing Christian Wade was ruled off-limits for six months. The most elusive attacking runner in the country will miss the forthcoming tournament in its entirety and must be rated extremely doubtful for the three-Test tour of New Zealand in June.
Wade joins Marland Yarde of London Irish, Ben Foden of Northampton and Ugo Monye of Harlequins on the ever-lengthening list of wide men unavailable for the difficult trip across the Channel. Chris Ashton is still standing, but as the Saracens player is so far out of form he might as well be injured, the England coach Stuart Lancaster finds himself in considerable difficulties.
There are four other wings in the senior and second-string squads announced by Lancaster back in the summer: Jonny May and Charlie Sharples of Gloucester, Jack Nowell of Exeter and Ashton's club-mate David Strettle. May must now be nailed on for promotion to the Six Nations party, assuming he avoids all forms of orthopaedic calamity, but Lancaster has turned against Sharples and Strettle in recent times, while Nowell is a novice. Anthony Watson, the Bath full-back, could be drafted in, having been identified as a potential option for the World Cup in 2015.
It is a brutal setback for Wade, who made his international debut in Argentina last summer and would have played ahead of Ashton during the recent internationals had he not twanged a hamstring. He suffered this latest injury – significant ligament damage in the middle part of his foot – during Wasps' league victory at London Irish last weekend and according to his club, surgery will be required.
Such is the injury fall-out, England will take on the French with the guts of their squad ripped out. Leaving aside the wings who are falling like leaves, there will be no Manu Tuilagi or Brad Barritt in the centre, no Alex Corbisiero in the front row and no Geoff Parling or Tom Croft in the back five of the scrum.
Lancaster is praying that some or all of them will be up on their feet by the summer, for the trip to New Zealand looks formidable. England will be understrength for the first Test on 7 June because those players involved in the Premiership final the previous weekend will be in no fit state. That game will be staged at Eden Park in Auckland, where the world champions have not lost since 1994.
The tourists will then head for the South Island for a Test in Dunedin, followed by a midweek fixture against the crack Crusaders Super 15 outfit in Christchurch, before heading back across the Cook Strait for the final international in Hamilton. Lancaster has described the trip as "the ultimate test" for his squad.
Meanwhile, the leading French club Racing Métro confirmed that they had signed Mike Phillips. He was sacked by Bayonne in October after accusations that he had attended a video analysis session while being the worse for wear.
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