Three more members of England's orthopaedically challenged squad for the forthcoming Autumn internationals – Gloucester centre Mike Tindall, Bath prop David Barnes and Wasps flanker Joe Worsley – were released back to their clubs yesterday.
While they will rejoin the party after this weekend's round of Premiership matches, their chances of starting against Australia at Twickenham in nine days' time appear slim. If the red-rose hierarchy were intending to inflict them on the Wallabies, they would hardly allow them to put themselves at risk so close to the event.
Tindall, a World Cup winner in 2003, and Worsley, who made such a destructively successful fist of the open-side flanker's role in this year's Six Nations Championship, are two of the more experienced members of the squad. Barnes, on the other hand, is still uncapped at 33, and unless something strange happens over the next few days, that is unlikely to change.
Tim Payne of Wasps, the other specialist loose-head prop in the running, is the favourite to face the tourists on Saturday week in the absence of the injured Andrew Sheridan.
If Barnes felt just a little miserable on his return to the Recreation Ground last night, his director of rugby must have felt quite the opposite. Steve Meehan was understandably alarmed earlier this week when the England coaching team called up three of his props, Duncan Bell and David Wilson being the others.
With a game against the Premiership leaders Saracens on the immediate horizon and badly in need of a victory after six defeats and a draw in the space of eight matches, the last thing he needed was a serious shortage of front-row know-how. Barnes' availability will give him some much-needed breathing space.
Of the 25 players remaining in camp at the England headquarters last night, there was only one uncapped rookie: the 20-year-old Northampton lock Courtney Lawes, who must now fancy his chances of a seat on the bench when the Wallabies come knocking at Twickenham. At the other end of the scale, the hooker Steve Thompson was also in situ, a couple of years after retiring from the sport with a serious neck condition.
Simon Shaw, a very substantial citizen whose contribution to the Lions' epic series in South Africa during the summer accurately reflected his vital statistics, will not be around to face the Wallabies, more's the pity, but he is at least on the comeback trail. Having recovered from a metatarsal problem, otherwise known as "Beckhamitis", he is likely to turn out for Wasps against Leeds on Sunday, and all being well, he will be in England contention before November is out.
"With most players, you'd say two games wouldn't be enough," said Tony Hanks, Wasps director of rugby. "Simon is not a normal player. If he comes through the next two weeks feeling like he's ready then you'd put him in."Reuse content