Johnson on injury watch

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The Independent Online

England manager Martin Johnson will be an anxious spectator as the weekend's round of Guinness Premiership action unfolds.

Johnson will on Monday name his revised 32-man elite player squad for the autumn internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.

The Twickenham opener against the Wallabies is still two weeks away yet Johnson is already coming to terms with a shocking injury list that has robbed him of six guaranteed starters for the entire series.

Overall, 12 of the current EPS squad are carrying injuries to varying degrees of severity.

England's entire first-choice front row of Phil Vickery, Andrew Sheridan and Lee Mears is missing, so prop has suddenly become an area of serious concern.

Of the three senior squad props still standing, Wasps' Tim Payne and Julian White of Leicester start tomorrow while Bath's David Wilson is likely to see game time from the bench as he continues his comeback from a knee injury.

The front-row injury curse has also struck the Saxons squad, so Johnson may look to Bath's veteran duo David Flatman and Duncan Bell, both of whom feature against Newcastle.

Wilson, who is highly regarded by Johnson, swapped Newcastle for the Recreation Ground during the summer and Bell is pleased to have him on side as Bath attempt to complete their first home victory of the season.

"David ran the scrum video session and gave a little inside information about Newcastle's players in the front five," said Bell.

"It's good to have maybe a little spy in the camp - it gives us that little advantage in that we know a bit more about them than they do about us."

Winger Matt Banahan, who won both his caps during the summer series against Argentina, features for Bath who have won just once this season.

Johnson's greatest concern will be that Leicester's trip to London Irish finishes casualty-free with eight members of his EPS squad in action at the Madejski Stadium in the day's standout match.

One of those eight, Tigers centre Dan Hipkiss, returns after missing the last two rounds of Heineken Cup matches through illness.

"We have been a bit stretched, especially in the backs, so it is certainly good news to get Danny back," said Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill.

"Irish have had a good start to the season and both teams have lost just one game in the Premiership so I'm sure it will be a keen contest."

England openside Steffon Armitage is back for Irish, who occupy second in the table, after fulfilling his EPS rest requirement.

Struggling Gloucester enter their clash with Wasps at Kingsholm with a crippling injury list of their own - including England's Olly Morgan and Mike Tindall - but head coach Bryan Redpath refuses to use that to explain his side's poor form.

"We can make a lot out of injuries. We had 10 forwards missing against Biarritz last weekend and that's just life. We didn't lose the game because of that," Redpath said.

Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder has pinpointed Charlie Hodgson as Sale's main dangerman at Franklin's Gardens tomorrow.

"Charlie Hodgson is one of the best playmakers in the league and he has plenty of strike runners outside him to use," he said.

Dylan Hartley, set to replace the injured Mears for England next month, leads Saints while Mathew Tait returns at outside centre for Sale.

Nick Easter will captain Harlequins against Worcester in Will Skinner's injury-enforced absence while Saracens' home clash with Leeds is Sunday's only fixture.