Hodgson drafted in for England

Fly-half's call-up as cover for injured Wilkinson a blow for relegation-threatened Sale
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The Independent Online

Charlie Hodgson, currently playing a heroic hand for Sale in their fight against relegation from the Premiership, was yesterday called into the England squad as cover for the stricken Jonny Wilkinson – a development that will prevent him preparing fully for his club's deeply important match with Wasps at Edgeley Park on Friday night. Should Wilkinson miss the Six Nations finale with the Grand Slam-chasing French on Saturday night, the in-form Hodgson will spend the weekend in Paris rather than Stockport, where he is more badly needed.

Wilkinson was invalided out of the drawn Calcutta Cup match with Scotland in Edinburgh three days ago after suffering a blow to the neck – an area of the outside-half's anatomy that has caused him plenty of trouble down the years. Together with the Harlequins wing Ugo Monye, who left Murrayfield on a stretcher after a sickening clash of heads with the Scotland flanker Kelly Brown, he is currently being patched up by medical staff at the England base in Surrey.

Uncomfortably aware that England will travel to France as rank outsiders and are most unlikely to finish the championship higher than third, Martin Johnson is at least buoyed by Simon Shaw's rapid recovery from a shoulder injury picked up during the defeat by Ireland late last month. The Wasps lock is expected to train fully this week, although the performance of his replacement in the engine room, Louis Deacon, was one of the few high points of England's trip north of the border.

Scotland's medics were working their way through a long injury list ahead of the tough match with Ireland in Dublin. Brown, badly dazed by his off-piste collision with Monye, will be subject to the "usual protocols" surrounding concussion while five other players – the prop Euan Murray, the wing Max Evans, the centre Nick de Luca, the full-back Hugo Southwell and the replacement stand-off Phil Godman – were all under treatment.

Meanwhile, the deflated Wales coach Warren Gatland was planning significant changes to his side for this weekend's meeting with Italy. Three British and Irish Lions Test players – Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and the national captain Ryan Jones – were said to be fit and under consideration while two new-generation types, the Ospreys outside-half Dan Biggar and the Cardiff Blues flanker Sam Warburton, were being well tipped for promotion.

"The time has come when the players are going to go through some pain this week," said Gatland. "They will go through some pain at training that they probably haven't experienced before. For me, it is putting the players under a lot of pressure at training, and if they make mistakes or errors there will be a few punishments. I think we need to go through a bit of pain.

"The coaching staff are hurting, the players are hurting, and we've got to give a response and performance on Saturday that reflects how important this is to us. I've had a couple of bad days. I don't take defeat too easily, or performances that I don't think are acceptable.

"I know the players have seen us as coaches going through some pain. We are desperately hurting, so if we are going to hurt this bad then so are they. I am just being honest and giving an honest assessment of how disappointed I am."

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