A tale of two Wasps unfolded at England's baronial training base in Surrey yesterday. Actually, make that three Wasps. Paul Sackey, the reigning Premiership champions' right wing, was scratched from this weekend's Six Nations match with France at Twickenham after failing to recover sufficiently quickly from the calf injury he picked up during the defeat in Ireland 11 days ago. Meanwhile, his club colleague, Danny Cipriani, followed him out of camp, declared surplus to requirements for the fifth Test in a row. Simon Shaw got to stay, however, and that could be highly significant.
Shaw can certainly expect to be involved against the Tricolores after a long spell on the margins. The 35-year-old forward, who picked up a World Cup winner's medal in 2003 without doing much to earn it, and then worked his socks off to drive England towards a runners-up finish in 2007, is very much in the selectorial mix and may conceivably start the game if Martin Johnson, the manager, decides Steve Borthwick and Nick Kennedy are too much of a likeness. There would certainly be a logic to his thinking if he makes the change, especially as France are likely to have a couple of heavyweight scrummagers among their number.
All told, 13 of the elite squad were "released back to their clubs" for this week's round of Premiership matches: the England hierarchy's modern-day phrase for "not this time, thank you". Some of them were the usual suspects: Tim Payne and George Chuter among the front-rowers, Steffon Armitage among the loose forwards, Jamie Noon and Olly Morgan among the backs. But there was also a demotion for Luke Narraway, a replacement in Dublin – John Wells, the forwards coach, is still not convinced of the Gloucester player's effectiveness at close quarters – and another smack in the teeth for the Northampton scrum-half Ben Foden, who some assumed would replace Danny Care following the latter's comical disciplinary lapse against the Irish.
Care has been retained, as has Andy Goode who, being based in France rather than England and therefore operating outside of the complex Elite Player Squad agreement, is essentially a free pick for Johnson. Those who desire – even demand – the return of the gifted Cipriani to national colours must now wait for the Calcutta Cup against Scotland on Saturday week.
If he fails to make the cut for that one, the Boy Wonder's chances of a trip to South Africa with the British and Irish Lions this summer will be more remote than anyone imagined six months ago. Sackey's injury is not so terrible as to threaten his prospects of a return against Scotland: indeed, he may even be declared fit enough to play for Wasps at Gloucester this weekend.
Against France, however, there will have to be change at No 14. Johnson has two choices: he can promote Mathew Tait from the bench and keep Mark Cueto on the left wing, or move Cueto across and recall Ugo Monye of Harlequins to the starting line-up. Monye played throughout the pre-Christmas international programme, albeit as a victim of the law of diminishing returns.
There was more disappointing injury news for Johnson yesterday when Shane Geraghty was diagnosed as suffering from a broken bone in his hand, sustained during London Irish's costly defeat at Wasps on Sunday.
He will miss the rest of the Six Nations and may also struggle to turn out for his club in the foreseeable future. This hurts London Irish more than it hurts England, for they are as desperate for bodies as they are for form. Hot favourites for a top-four finish at the turn of the year, they now look fragile.
Yesterday's news from France was even more grim. Serge Blanco, perhaps the finest full-back of all-time, was forced to undergo minor heart surgery at the age of 50.
* Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel has been ruled out of the remainder of the Six Nations Championship due to a torn hamstring. Peel will be replaced in the starting XV to face Italy in Rome on Saturday by Ospreys' Mike Phillips. Meanwhile, Chris Paterson has been recalled to Scotland's starting line-up at full-back for the game against Ireland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Homeward bound: England's rejects
Paul Sackey (Wasps) – Injured
Danny Cipriani (Wasps)
Steffon Armitage (London Irish)
George Chuter (Leicester)
Louis Deacon (Leicester)
Ben Foden (Northampton)
Luke Narraway (Gloucester)
Jamie Noon (Newcastle)
Olly Morgan (Gloucester)
Tim Payne (Wasps)
Olly Barkley (Gloucester)
David Strettle (Harlequins)
David Wilson (Newcastle)
The age of World Cup-winning lock Simon Shaw, who looks set to feature against France.Reuse content