Another day, another outbreak of orthopaedic misery for England ahead of the Six Nations. Already missing midfielders as influential as Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, and down to the bare bones in the back five of the pack, the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, today discovered that the Bath tight-head prop David Wilson was struggling with a neck problem that would keep him out of important training sessions geared towards next Friday’s difficult game against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
It is by no means clear whether Wilson will recover from a “nerve impingement” in time to play in Cardiff, or whether the Lions Test front-rower Dan Cole – the senior England No 3 who has not performed at international level for almost a year – will be in a position to participate.
Cole is nearing full fitness following surgery on a serious neck condition and an infinitely less alarming foot injury, but he has precious little rugby behind him and would, in a perfect world, give Cardiff a wide berth. Still, needs must.
Lancaster summoned the Newcastle prop Kieran Brookes from the second-string Saxons squad as tight-head cover and it is not beyond the realms that he will make the trip to Wales. Brookes has yet to start an international contest but he has made the most of several opportunities off the bench since breaking into the match-day squad during last summer’s tour of New Zealand and he appears to have what it takes. Certainly, the reigning English champions Northampton had no hesitation in signing him from Tyneside for next season.
England’s fast-diminishing Six Nations party has also been fleshed out by the arrival of Shane Geraghty – something of a left-field call by Lancaster, yet still a welcome one. Geraghty, in eye-catching form at both outside-half and centre for London Irish this season, was last capped in 2009, but a heavy injury toll among the inside backs has left the coach in need of an extra body or two. “I didn’t want to cause any further disruption to the Saxons,” Lancaster explained, “so this will help us train with appropriate numbers.”
Talking of the Saxons, who play the Irish Wolfhounds in Cork this evening, there will be a start at outside-half for the gifted young Exeter playmaker Henry Slade and a return to representative duty for Chris Pennell – the Worcester full-back has been stranded in English rugby’s second tier this term.
There will also be shots at salvation for two Test wings who have fallen on hard times. Chris Ashton of Saracens was dumped by Lancaster for the autumn internationals, while Marland Yarde of Harlequins has slipped behind Anthony Watson of Bath, Jonny May of Gloucester and Jack Nowell of Exeter in the pecking order.
One other thing: a bloke by the name of Sam Burgess will, as expected, get a run at inside centre, just two short months after making a first senior union start with Bath following his wildly expensive and much talked about cross-code switch from rugby league. It is an astonishingly fast rise to England duty of any description – a point that will hardly be lost on another Bath midfielder, the highly accomplished Ollie Devoto, who starts Friday night’s match among the replacements.
Meanwhile, the experienced England lock Geoff Parling – out of the Wales game with injury, like so many others – will leave Leicester for Exeter at the end of the Premiership campaign. This is a major signing for the Devonians, who also confirmed the arrival of the Bath wing Olly Woodburn.
“It will be a change of scenery,” said Parling, who won Lions Test caps in Australia in 2013. “Since Exeter came into the Premiership, they’ve done things the right way. They’re a lot like Leicester: very much a traditional club with great support in a rugby hotbed.”
Over in France, the Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage was released from custody by police investigating allegations of aggravated assault arising from an incident in a restaurant in December.
Armitage, arrested with his club colleague Xavier Chiocci, had not been formally charged, but local reports indicated that he would appear in court on 10 February.
Last year’s European Player of the Year, Armitage is not being considered for England duty because he plays abroad.Reuse content