Fourie injury gives Johnson a problem

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The Independent Online

The last thing England needed yesterday was another back-row injury, so news of the Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie's damaged calf muscle was deeply unwelcome. Fourie, an important part of the red-rose set-up ahead of the Six Nations Championship, was under the care of the medical team as the squad gathered in Portugal for a week of intensive tournament preparation. Should he go the same way as Tom Croft and Lewis Moody, neither of whom are expected to play much of a part in the competition, Martin Johnson and his back-room colleagues will be in serious strife.

Johnson, the manager of the national team, called up two-thirds of the highly effective Northampton back row to fill the gaps in his squad. Tom Wood, uncapped but in the form of his young life after making the switch to the breakaway position on joining the Saints from Worcester at the start of the season, could well feature when England travel to Wales for the opening match on Friday week. His line-out prowess alone makes him a live contender for selection.

Phil Dowson, five years Wood's senior at 29, is more of a long shot for a run against the Welsh, but there is barely a player in the Premiership more deserving of a summons. The former Newcastle player, equally at home at No 8 or on the blind-side flank, has glued Northampton together since arriving at Franklin's Gardens and has been one of the driving forces behind their rapid development over the last two seasons.

In the lock department, the Leicester line-out specialist George Skivington was chosen to fill in for the injured Northampton forward Courtney Lawes, while the Bath full-back Nick Abendanon replaced Delon Armitage of London Irish, currently suspended after being found guilty of pushing, and using offensive language towards, a doping control officer after a league game earlier this month. Armitage is appealing against his eight-week ban, but as things stand, he has no chance of participating in the Six Nations.

As a result of all this rejigging, there were substantial changes to the England Saxons squad for this weekend's intriguing second-string game against Italy A at Worcester. Four tight forwards – the Gloucester prop Nick Wood, the London Irish hooker James Buckland, the Worcester lock Graham Kitchener and the Harlequins second-rower George Robson – joined the party at their base in Bath, as did three backs: Olly Morgan of Gloucester, Mike Brown of Harlequins and, most interestingly of all, the 19-year-old Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi.

There have been Tuilagis smashing seven bells out of all-comers for the best part of two decades, but the members of rugby's first family have played all their representative rugby for Samoa. The teenager is doing things differently, having declared himself for England some time ago. This year's World Cup in New Zealand will arrive too early for him, but when the red-rose nation hosts the next global gathering in 2015, he could well be the mainstay of the midfield.

The Ireland winger Andrew Trimble has been ruled out of the Six Nations opener against Italy with a broken right hand. An X-ray yesterday revealed the Ulster back had broken a metacarpal in Saturday’s 43-6 Heineken Cup victory over Aironi.

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