Calum Clark, the tough Northampton forward recalled to the England squad after serving a long suspension for leaving the Leicester hooker Rob Hawkins nursing a fractured elbow, is back on the outside looking in after receiving a grim orthopaedic bulletin of his own. Clark suffered a shoulder injury during a Heineken Cup match at Glasgow last weekend and today, it emerged that he requires surgery – a development that demolishes his chance of winning a first full cap in the forthcoming Six Nations.
With the 23-year-old Teessider due to go under the knife today, the chances of the highly-rated, similarly uncapped Worcester flanker Matt Kvesic remaining with the senior party for the duration of the championship increased significantly. Stuart Lancaster, the red-rose coach, named eight back-rowers in his 33-man squad, but Tom Croft, the Lions forward from Leicester, is still being eased back into top-flight rugby after a serious neck injury, while Tom Johnson of Exeter is off-limits due to knee problems. The news on Clark pushes Kvesic, called in as cover last Sunday, further up the pecking order.
Along with half a dozen other promising players, Kvesic has been linked with a possible move to Bath at the end of the season. However, immediate talk of the wealthy West Country club's recruitment activities are centred on the 19-year-old Leicester outside-half George Ford, not so much a hot property as a molten one. Leicester sources indicated that Ford had confirmed his intention to move on at the end of the campaign and while Bath were keeping schtum, the likelihood of some fiery public exchanges between the two old rivals is growing stronger by the day.
Ford is with the second-string England Saxons squad, preparing for their difficult game against a strong Irish Wolfhounds side in Galway on Friday night. Today, he excused himself from media activity, saying he would feel "uncomfortable" answering questions at such a sensitive moment.
If, as now seems certain, he heads south to the Recreation Ground and starts working alongside his father Mike Ford, the former England defence coach, there will be a rare old scrap for the No 10 shirt. Bath are already paying top dollar for the New Zealand outside-half Stephen Donald, who kicked the winning goal in the last World Cup final, and have two excellent home-grown prospects in Tom Heathcote, already capped by Scotland, and Ollie Devoto, the academy member who is in England's current Under-20 set-up.
The one piece of solid transfer news to emerge today was the impending arrival at London Irish of the centre Setaimata Sa, a cross-code recruit from rugby league who has represented both New Zealand, where he was a schoolboy whizzkid in union, and Samoa in the 13-man game. Sa's move from the Super League side Catalan Dragons was delayed by work visa complications, but the red tape has now been unravelled.
"Once he gets the hang of playing union again, there will be no better all-round midfielder in the country," said Brian Smith, the Exiles' rugby director.
England injury list
Tom Johnson, Freddie Burns (knee) Duo likely to miss first two games
Calum Clark (shoulder), Tom Palmer (calf) Expected to miss entire tournament
Manu Tuilagi (ankle) Doubtful for Scotland game
Worcester try to end debate over goal-kicks
Technological advances in rugby have not always been 100 per cent successful: TV match officials can still struggle to see the grounding of the ball over the line despite several replays. But Worcester believe any confusion over goal-kicks will be resolved by using an "electronic curtain" device developed by a Herefordshire company, IA Technology.
The system transmits a signal when a ball passes between the uprights and also activates flashing lights, giving supporters a disco experience as well. Cecil Duckworth, the Worcester chairman, is hoping the International Rugby Board will sanction a trial.
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