Moody may be a risk too far for England's World Cup trip
Johnson says he is hopeful after captain has scan but he must reassess his options for New Zealand
Martin Johnson does not yet believe that Lewis Moody, hobbling once again on that dodgy right knee of his, is at serious risk of missing next month's World Cup in New Zealand.
There again, he doesn't know for sure – and when a manager is still pondering major issues, like the captaincy, little more than a month before the most important tournament in the sport, it is difficult to argue that things are going swimmingly.
Moody, awarded the red-rose captaincy in March of last year, has played less than nine hours of competitive rugby since 2010 became 2011 and as the Bath flanker underwent another of his all-too-regular scans yesterday, the England hierarchy must surely have been turning their thoughts to alternatives: to Tom Wood of Northampton, Chris Robshaw of Harlequins and James Haskell of, er, the Ricoh Black Rams of Japan, none of whom would claim to be specialist breakaways in the Richie McCaw/ David Pocock mould, and to Hendre Fourie, the naturalised South African from Burgersdorp, who is very definitely a No 7, albeit one whose stock is lower now than it was before Christmas.
Johnson, suddenly wary of backing Moody as his World Cup leader before last weekend's narrow victory over Wales at Twickenham, was similarly non-committal in discussing the injury yesterday. "We're waiting for the scan results," he said. "It's not great that Lewis got injured, but I don't think it's on the very bad side of knee injuries. There's more good news than bad in that I don't think it will rule him out of the tournament, but we'll see." It was not, in truth, the most informative bulletin in the history of sports medicine.
This much is certain: if Johnson includes Moody in his final 30-man party, he will be taking a significant gamble. The captain may be an experienced hand – "Guys who have played a lot of rugby, over 10 or 15 years in his case, are better able to handle these problems," the manager argued – but World Cups are no places for the half-fit and the undercooked. Yet if he fails to prove his fitness to the satisfaction of the selectors, who will take on the captaincy? Mike Tindall, the Gloucester centre who knows what it is to win the Webb Ellis Trophy, is next in line, but his place in the first-choice team was not exactly reinforced as a result of events at Twickenham, where the 20-year-old Manu Tuilagi made the most of his debut appearance.
Rather like Brian Ashton before him, Johnson sees little sense in worrying about people who are not available to him. Far more pressing in his mind yesterday was what he called England's "passive defence" in the last 20 minutes of Saturday's contest – a deterioration that handed the initiative to the vibrant Welsh back-line runners and almost cost the home side the game. "We lost the last quarter 12-3, which wasn't great," he commented. "Some of the momentum went out of our rugby. We allowed them to get possession from certain situations more quickly than they should have done."
Jonny Wilkinson's brace of drop goals were fundamental to England's victory – a fact not lost on Toby Flood, the Leicester outside-half who had started the previous 11 internationals at the great man's expense. "There's always a possibility that Jonny will turn in a stand-out game if he has the opportunity," reflected Flood, who is expected to play this weekend's return warm-up match in Cardiff.
"Have I ever been in charge of the No 10 shirt? I've never thought so, and there are probably 58 million people in England who don't think I should be in charge of it." The poor man could perform like Barry John at the Millennium Stadium and still not force the great unwashed into a change of opinion.
Two of England's injured tight forwards, the prop Andrew Sheridan and the lock Courtney Lawes, are back in full-contact training and in contention for some meaningful activity on Saturday. The Welsh also have people on the way back – the full-back Lee Byrne, the stand-off James Hook, the prop Adam Jones – while Morgan Stoddart, who suffered a particularly gruesome leg injury at Twickenham, is due out of hospital today after a successful operation.
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