England's long-cherished ambition to show the best of themselves in Australia for the first time since the World Cup-winning annus mirabilis of 2003 suffered a nasty setback yesterday when their first-choice hooker, the Northampton captain Dylan Hartley, was ruled out of next month's five-match tour. Hartley requires minor surgery to repair a damaged cartilage in his left knee and will miss two important Tests against the Wallabies.
He suffered the injury during last weekend's Premiership semi-final defeat by Saracens at Franklin's Gardens and will be replaced by the long-serving Leicester hooker George Chuter, who travels as support to Lee Mears of Bath, very much back in form after a subdued start to the campaign, and Steve Thompson of Brive, who played the whole of the game when England won the Webb Ellis Trophy in Sydney seven years ago. The uncapped Wasps hooker Rob Webber is also in the party.
The news surrounding another Premiership captain, Tom Rees of Wasps, was more disappointing still, even though the flanker failed to make the 44-man cut for the Australia trip and was chosen in the Churchill Cup-bound Saxons squad instead. A hot tip to lead England at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, Rees has been advised to take the summer off in an effort to cement his recovery from the career-threatening shoulder injury that had incapacitated him until late March.
"Tom had a very difficult season, coming through two shoulder operations," said the Wasps director of rugby, Tony Hanks. "Whilst he enjoyed some strong form on his return, injuries of this nature need continual monitoring. A summer spent strengthening the shoulder will be hugely beneficial."Reuse content