Johnson finally catches a break as Hernandez is ruled out of World Cup

England manager not the only one with injury trouble after first opponents Argentina lose their maestro for tournament

England have been praying for good news on the injury front for much of the summer, with precious little in the way of a response from on high. That changed yesterday when Johnson awoke to the glad tidings that Juan Martin Hernandez, the Maradona of rugby, had failed to recover from a bad knee injury – far worse than the one currently affecting the threatened red-rose captain Lewis Moody – in time to make the Argentina squad for the forthcoming World Cup.

Hernandez, a spellbindingly good full-back whose performances in the outside-half position helped the Pumas to an applecart-upsetting third place at the last tournament in 2007 – they beat France twice, plus Ireland and Scotland, in advancing to a podium finish – should now be at the peak of his powers. Unfortunately for the South Americans, who meet England in Dunedin on 10 September, the ligament damage he suffered while playing for the Parisian club Racing Metro in March has yet to clear up.

"While it was always in our heads that he wasn't going to be with us, the loss of his qualities as a player and a person is important," admitted the coach, Santiago Phelan, who has selected 10 veterans of the '07 campaign, including the centre Felipe Contepomi, who has been playing alongside Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon and will lead a party boasting 25 Europe-based personnel. Among the Premiership contingent are the Leicester prop Marcos Ayerza and the Harlequins lock Tomas Vallejos.

If the news from Buenos Aires put a spring in Johnson's step, the England manager will be even happier if the likes of Mike Tindall and Steve Thompson, first-choice members of the Webb Ellis Trophy-winning side of 2003, can convince him of their continuing value by turning in quality performances against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. Neither was involved in the tight victory over the same opposition at Twickenham last weekend, and each faces challenges on the selection front: Tindall from the young centre Manu Tuilagi, who made a try-scoring Test debut five days ago, and Thompson from the current senior hooker Dylan Hartley – not to mention a resurgent Lee Mears.

"I think I can win the shirt back," Thompson said, "but I suppose we all think like that. It's the strength of the squad, which is more competitive now than it has been in a long while. If you're given an opportunity now, you really have to take it. If you play well, there's always a chance of staying in for the next match. If someone is off his game, someone will come in and make the most of the chance."

Four years ago, when England reached a second successive global final, Thompson was in injury-enforced retirement, his front-rower's bull neck having started to rebel against the constant punishment meted out in the darkened recesses of scrum and maul. He was not entirely unhappy about it – "I think I was drunk when they played that tournament," he said – but as his fledgling coaching career with the French club Brive began to take shape, second thoughts persuaded him to take a second opinion on his neck problems. Within months, he was back on the field.

"I never thought I'd fall out of love with rugby, but I was out of love with it for a while then," he acknowledged. "When you're battering yourself in training and your heart isn't in it, this game is a hard one to play. I'd been playing back-to-back rugby at Test level for five or six seasons – more Tests than anyone else at that stage – and physically I was getting weaker. I was burnt out."

And now? "I'm training harder than ever, my neck is stronger and more flexible than it's ever been and I've lost some weight. I'm nowhere near as heavy as I was in '07. That makes it an absolute nightmare getting shirts. When you ask for a 21-inch neck, the bottom bit tends to be like a tent. I have to wrap the things around me sometimes."

Wales, meanwhile, are prepared to take two of their own long-serving front-rowers to the World Cup, even if they miss the entire warm-up programme through injury. The hooker Matthew Rees, who has been captaining the side of late, and the loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins are finding it frustratingly difficult to shake off their orthopaedic niggles – neck problems in the case of Rees; toe and calf issues in the case of Jenkins – and there is little likelihood of either man featuring at the Millennium Stadium.

Even so, their flights to New Zealand appear to have been booked. "There are players who warrant a certain amount of special attention and looking at how important they've been to us in the past, they fall into that category," said the forwards coach Robin McBryde.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk