Flutey's injury blow gives Johnson central problem

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Less than two months before England's opening international of the season against Australia – a game they must win if Martin Johnson is to persuade the rugby public that he brings something more to the managership than a famous name – the injury problems are kicking in hard. Riki Flutey, the only specialist inside centre in the elite squad, is out of the running as a result of yesterday's examination of his damaged shoulder and it may be that Delon Armitage, one of only two full-time full-backs, will go the same way.

Armitage, who suffered a suspected shoulder dislocation during London Irish's victory over Gloucester on Sunday, will discover more about his condition today. Olly Morgan, who played opposite him at the Madejski Stadium, would be the clear favourite to fill in at No 15 against the Wallabies, although Ugo Monye has been performing the role at Harlequins and both Mathew Tait and Mark Cueto have experience of the position. Flutey's confirmed absence is far more of an issue and as the former Wasps midfielder has openly admitted to playing when he should have been resting – he aggravated the problem with his shoulder after agreeing to turn out for his new club, Brive, in the French Top 14 tournament late last month – it is reasonable to suggest that the top brass are a little annoyed. Certainly, the Rugby Football Union's bulletin on Flutey yesterday was short and to the point, with no hint of a "hard luck" message from Johnson.

As Toby Flood, last season's preferred choice at No 10, is recovering from surgery and definitely off limits, England are already preparing to drag some bloke by the name of Wilkinson out of mothballs. But there is no obvious replacement for Flutey. Mike Tindall, who has turned the odd trick at No 12 in the past, if not terribly successfully, is also struggling for fitness, so Johnson is likely to go fishing amongst the centres in the Saxons squad.

Brad Barritt of Saracens – a South African import, but what's new? – has excited one or two good judges recently, while Jordan Turner-Hall of Harlequins, has brute strength on his side. But of the Saxons candidates, Northampton's Shane Geraghty is the stand-out figure. He should be in the elite squad anyway.

Talking of elites, Argentina will finally be given the chance to perform in an annual tournament worthy of the name when they are received into the Tri-Nations in 2012, thereby making it the Four Nations.

The sticking point for the Pumas concerns their European-based players, who, as things stand, account for well over 90 per cent of the Test team. With the expanded competition running from mid-August to mid-October, there would be no prospect of the best Argentine talent signing big-money club contracts in England or France. Unless the impoverished domestic union can find some serious cash, players might be tempted to turn their backs on Test rugby and feed their families instead.

Comments