Toe surgery rules Jenkins out of Six Nations


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Just as the England management were fretting over the injury fall-out from last weekend's tumultuous Midlands derby at Leicester – the silence from Northampton concerning the precise orthopaedic states of two important Six Nations players, wing Chris Ashton and lock Courtney Lawes, was close to deafening – the Wales hierarchy were coming to terms with the confirmed loss of one of their own top-drawer talents, Gethin Jenkins. The Lions loose-head prop, who is suffering from a persistent toe problem, will undergo surgery tomorrow and miss the entire tournament.

Not that England, who open the Six Nations with a floodlit visit to Cardiff four weeks on Friday, will be banking on victory in Jenkins's absence. The Cardiff Blues front-rower's obvious replacement is Paul James of Ospreys, a stronger scrummager whose set-piece performance against the All Blacks in Hamilton last summer led directly to the Wellington forward Neemia Tialata being dropped from the New Zealand squad.

Yet Jenkins's absence will weaken Wales. His all-court game places him in the first rank of modern front-row operators. The Blues, who expect him to be out of commission for at least 10 weeks, believe an operation now will ensure his fitness for the World Cup in New Zealand in September, and their own Magners League run-in.

"The toe has been causing him problems for about a year now," said David Young, Blues' director of rugby. "The hope was that with reduced training and more rest, it would heal itself. We've gone down every path because Gethin wanted to avoid the operation if he could, but he doesn't feel he's been playing the way he'd like to play and it's reached the stage where surgery is the only option."

Wales have had a rough time of it on the injury front, but with the exception of the hot new Scarlets wing George North and now Jenkins, there may be better news ahead. Stephen Jones, such a crucial figure at outside-half, is fit again, as is the Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny, while the Ospreys hope to have the full-back Lee Byrne available for this weekend's Heineken Cup match with London Irish. There is also an outside chance that Shane Williams, still the most dangerous broken-field runner in Europe, will make the England date on 5 February, despite the gravity of his shoulder problems.

Meanwhile, those elite English clubs who are pressing for an early and significant hike in the salary cap in an effort to compete with loadsamoney French clubs like Toulouse and Toulon, appear to be fighting a losing battle. Leicester, Northampton, Saracens and Bath are all thought to favour a lifting of the current £4m limit, but with negotiations on the 2012/13 figure set to begin soon, there is no sign of the necessary 75 per cent support on the board of Premiership Rugby.

"These discussions are always difficult but we're in challenging economic times and we need a degree of caution," said Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of the organisation. "The French club game is very strong at the moment: fair dos to them, they seem to shrug their shoulders in the face of recession and get on with life. But eight of the clubs in their Top 14 championship are not balancing their books and I think there will be problems over there in two or three years."

McCafferty added that there was no prospect of a Premiership game being played abroad, despite the innovative move by Wasps to move their forthcoming Anglo-Welsh Cup game with Harlequins to Abu Dhabi.