First he was back in, then he was back out again. Lewis Moody, gung-ho flanker and England captain in absentia, had high hopes of reclaiming his place in the red-rose back row in this weekend's eagerly-awaited Six Nations game with France at Twickenham, despite playing fast and loose with his troublesome right knee by returning to action at least a week ahead of schedule. But yesterday's news from the camp was grim: Moody suffered a reaction after training and is now fighting to regain full fitness in time for the Calcutta Cup meeting with Scotland on 13 March.
There was no confirmation of all this from the Trappists in the England management, but there again, there were no denials either. The silence was partly explained by Martin Johnson's new-found enthusiasm for late team announcements – the manager rather likes the idea of keeping opponents in the dark for as long as possible – and, perhaps, by a touch of embarrassment over the whole Moody saga. The France date was always tight, given the nature of the ligament damage suffered in mid-January, yet Moody was recalled to the Six Nations squad on the back of 23 minutes of Premiership activity last weekend, throughout which his knee was heavily strapped.
Johnson will not lose too much sleep over keeping together the current back row of Tom Wood, James Haskell and Nick Easter, all of whom caught the eye at one time or another over the opening two rounds of the championship. But he prizes Moody's leadership skills, not to mention the energy he brings to the England mix. It now seems likely that the only change to the starting line-up that swamped Italy 12 days ago will be at loose-head prop, where the Lions Test front-rower Andrew Sheridan is back in commission after a brief injury lay-off.
There was rather more chopping and changing in Celtic regions, where both the Scots and the Irish remodelled their teams ahead of their meeting at Murrayfield on Sunday. Andy Robinson, the Scotland coach, had little choice in the matter: fitness issues over two full-backs, Hugo Southwell and Rory Lamont, plus the new centre Joe Ansbro guaranteed a new look to the back division, but there have also been changes at half-back, as well as in all three rows of the pack.
Chris Paterson, the most decorated player in Scottish rugby history, returns as the last line of defence, while Sean Lamont comes into midfield alongside the repositioned Nick de Luca. A new half-back partnership will be introduced – the 23-year-old stand-off Ruaridh Jackson will make his first start alongside the vastly more experienced Mike Blair, who toured South Africa with the Lions in 2009. Up front, the prop Moray Low replaces Euan Murray, whose religious convictions prevent him playing on a Sunday, while Richie Gray returns to the second row. In the back row, the so-called "killer Bs" are reunited. Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie were as hot as hell a year ago. Can they generate the same kind of temperature now Beattie is fit again?
"We've had an honesty session," said Robinson, still spitting tacks at the limp nature of his side's home defeat by Wales last time out. "It's important to me that we express how we feel. If anyone has an issue, it needs to be voiced. We've been punished for the errors we've made, but we perform under pressure and we have to keep going for it. We know Ireland are a huge threat – our beating them in Dublin last year will give them added drive. But this is about the here, the now and our performance."
For their part, Ireland have turned to two Test Lions of their own – the wing Tommy Bowe and the stand-off Ronan O'Gara – as they seek another of their regular Murrayfield triumphs. There is also a change at half-back, where Eoin Reddan replaces the stricken Tomas O'Leary.
On the club front, Wasps announced the signings of two outside-halves: Nicky Robinson from Gloucester and Ryan Davis of Exeter. They will begin two-year stints at Adams Park in the summer, filling the gap left by David Walder, who plans to play overseas after five years with the Londoners.Reuse content