England's refresher week among the Dreaming Spires turned into a personal nightmare for Andrew Sheridan, with the news that the Sale Sharks loose-head prop will miss the remainder of his country's bid for a first Six Nations Championship title and Grand Slam in eight years.
Having sat out the defeat of Italy three weeks ago with back trouble, Sheridan tore a calf muscle midway through the first half of last Saturday's win over France at Twickenham. Yesterday he learned his fate and packed his bags at the city-centre hotel in Oxford where the majority of his England squad-mates are taking a three-day break from their customary Surrey base.
Alex Corbisiero won his debut caps as Sheridan's deputy against Italy and the French, and is likely to extend that run when England resume in the Six Nations against Scotland at Twickenham on Sunday week, with the final game against Ireland in Dublin to follow six days later.
The 22-year-old London Irishman came out about even from his tussle with the scrum-loving French – "They got a couple on him and he got a couple on them," said England's manager, Martin Johnson – and he has shunted Tim Payne of Wasps and Gloucester's Paul Doran-Jones down the propping pecking order.
"Sheridan missing the Italy game was a blessing in disguise," said Johnson. "It meant that when Corbs came off the bench last week it wasn't all brand new to him." There is another man doing the Premiership front-row rounds with considerable experience, and who is capable of propping both sides, but Johnson hinted that Matt Stevens' likelier chance of an international recall – following his recent comeback from a drugs ban – would be the summer matches with the Barbarians and in the Churchill Cup. "Our camp for the World Cup meets in June, and it [the contest for prop positions] could be very competitive," said Johnson.
The manager had retained 20 players for three days of gentle training at St Edward's School, not far from that famous sporting venue at Iffley Road. But it was not just Sheridan who was unable to take part in a four-minute mile or any other kind of physical activity. Toby Flood, whose 51st-minute exit against France ushered on Jonny Wilkinson to kick a match-settling penalty, was resting a sore Achilles tendon in his right leg.
The Leicester fly-half will not train until tomorrow, if at all – Flood had six months out of the game after rupturing his left Achilles playing for his club in May 2009. So out the window went any notion of releasing Wilkinson to play for Toulon at Clermont-Auvergne on Friday night, even if Johnson had a mind to in the first place, which is doubtful. Lewis Moody, a Six Nations bystander so far, was said to be unlikely to play for Bath at Gloucester on Saturday but a successful outing by Leicester's Tom Croft at home to Saracens the same day may make the rangy flanker a contender to face the Scots, on the bench at least.
"Managing injuries is a big part of the job and we're going into an intense couple of weeks," Johnson said. "We shouldn't have been knocked out of our stride by the French as much as we were in the first half but the good thing is that we dealt with it at half-time. If you play good teams, they are going to have a plan for you."
Would Scotland, who have lost to France, Wales and Ireland in their three Championship matches to date, come into that category? "They'll come down and they'll be desperate," said Johnson. "They had a good autumn in terms of beating South Africa and they did some good stuff in Paris. We've got a little bit better during our three games but it doesn't affect what you want to do, which is to win the next match."
When Johnson has been able to take the air outside the England bubble, he has found the Six Nations ambience "lively – which is how it should be". He included in that the verbal barbs spat at his players and his country by Wales's Warren Gatland and France's Marc Lièvremont, and he is expecting more of the same from the Scots, six months before the old enemies meet in the World Cup.
"If you're winning, that's the most important thing," said Nick Easter, the England No 8. "We could have been smarter against France, rather than leaving it to half-time. That will be discussed this week, and next week there'll be more emotion built into it."
Two years ago England trained in Leeds for a change and went to watch Premier League darts in Newcastle. With a team-bonding trip to a track to race performance cars scheduled for today, the Bodleian Library will have to wait. "Being mentally fresh is just as important as physically fresh," said Easter. "If you're mentally strong you can get through the niggles you've got 90 per cent of the time you're playing." Sheridan was stuck in the 10 per cent.
Cipriani promises to stand down if he messes up again
Danny Cipriani, who was yesterday fined for an incident in a nightclub by his Australian club the Melbourne Rebels, apologised but rather than promising to abstain altogether said that if it happens again he will accept a suspension. Possibly not exactly what his coach wanted to hear.
Cipriani was fined one match payment for helping himself to a bottle of alcohol at Prahran nightclub in the early hours of the morning after a match. The sometimes England player said in a statement: "I have apologised for my actions and I regret any embarrassment my behaviour has caused for the Rebels. If anything else happens along these lines again, I have agreed with the players that I will stand down for an appropriate period."Reuse content