Moody fitness boost for Bath and England

Lewis Moody is on course to captain England against New Zealand on November 6 after being passed fit to play for Bath against Harlequins this weekend.

Moody's autumn international campaign was initially in doubt after he damaged his left eye-socket in a collision with Gloucester full-back Charlie Sharples on October 1.

But the 31-year-old's rapid recovery was confirmed last night when he was given clearance to feature for Bath on Sunday, just six days before tackling the All Blacks.

Moody, who captained England to a 21-20 win over Australia in their last outing, is one of nine players being released for Aviva Premiership duty this weekend, a number that did not include Toby Flood.

The Leicester fly-half, who started both England's Tests on the tour of Australia, has played just one full game since suffering knee ligament damage on the opening weekend of the season.

Martin Johnson always seemed likely to keep Flood in cotton wool ahead of the autumn series, but the injury concerns surrounding Jonny Wilkinson made that certain.

Wilkinson reported to England's pre-autumn training camp with a shoulder injury which is causing the Red Rose medics enough concern for Charlie Hodgson to be retained alongside Flood in the training squad.

Johnson's decision to release Tim Payne, Dominic Waldouck and Brad Barritt yesterday provided a pointer as to England's thinking ahead of their appointment with the All Blacks.

Payne's release suggests England are looking at a return for Andrew Sheridan at loose-head prop with Paul Doran-Jones or David Wilson, if fit from a back problem, to provide support off the bench.

The decision to release Waldouck and Barritt points firmly to a midfield of Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall - the same pairing that started the win over Australia in Sydney - particularly with Riki Flutey struggling with a calf problem.

The other original elite squad players sent back to their clubs yesterday were Saracens winger David Strettle and Leicester hooker George Chuter.

Tom Wood, Joe Marler, Barritt and Dan Ward-Smith, who all came into camp yesterday along with Hodgson to provide injury cover, were also released for Premiership duty.