First the good news. Jonny Wilkinson managed to put 21 points on the scoreboard for Toulon on Saturday, including his first try for his French club, without suffering any collateral damage. Now the not so good. England hopefuls continue to drop like stricken flies ahead of a looming autumn international season that, for Martin Johnson, is shrouded in a good deal of mist, with precious little mellow fruitfulness in evidence.
The England team manager is due to name his 32-man squad today for a series that starts with a Twickenham Test against Australia on Saturday week and two further names have been added to his already lengthy casualty list after the weekend's round of Guinness Premiership matches. The Leicester tight-head prop Julian White and the Harlequins No 8 Nick Easter were both on crutches after their respective club games – the former with a hamstring tear that will definitely rule him out of the three-match series, which also includes Tests against Argentina and New Zealand, the latter with a calf problem that makes him a major doubt. In addition, the Leicester scrum-half Harry Ellis, who has missed the last three games for his club because of a knee problem, looks certain to be out of action until the middle of next month at least.
The prime concern for Johnson will be the loss of a third prop in eight days, the incapacitation of White having followed a shoulder dislocation for the loose head Andrew Sheridan and a neck problem for the tight head Phil Vickery that will require surgery to correct. The England manager was in the main stand at the Madejski Stadium when the Leicester veteran, the obvious stand-in for Vickery, came to grief at the bottom of a ruck four minutes into the Tigers' 18-12 defeat against London Irish. He must have winced as sharply as the big Devon farmer.
Asked whether White had any hope of making the England mix, Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, said: "There's not a chance. He could be out for three to four weeks or for six to eight. We'll scan it and see." Bath team-mates Duncan Bell and Davy Wilson are the obvious candidates for the No 3 shirt.
Easter has yet to be ruled out of the running for the No 8 jersey formally, although there would appear to be little chance of him making the Wallabies Test, having suffered a suspected tear of the calf muscle in his right leg in Harlequins' 26-22 win at Worcester on Saturday. "I'm expecting a lay-off of two to four weeks," Easter said.
Cockerill echoed the same sentiment with regard to Ellis: "I doubt if he'll be fit for the Australian game."Reuse content