New injury ordeal rocks Wilkinson

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson got as far as the replacements' bench for Newcastle's game at London Irish last weekend, which was something of a triumph for a man whose career has been stripped bare by an entire medical directory's worth of orthopaedic ailments since he dropped the goal that won the World Cup for England in the autumn of 2003. Sadly, he will go no further for the time being. Wilkinson suffered an acute injury to his right adductor muscle during a training session on Tuesday and will miss the Premiership match with Gloucester on Sunday.

Although this latest problem has occurred worryingly close to Wilkinson's groin, the subject of surgery last November, it is not, according to the Newcastle staff, linked in any way. "The surgery was a complete success," said a club spokesman yesterday. "The groin disruption repair has not been compromised at any stage." This particular adductor has plagued Wilkinson before, like most of the muscles in the poor chap's body. As recently as last month he suffered a similar setback, and spent a few more miserable weeks hauling himself towards fitness. There is no suggestion that this outbreak of trauma is any more serious, but he must be climbing the walls.

Wilkinson was never in contention for a run in the current Six Nations Championship - Andy Robinson, the England coach, is adamant that the finest goal-kicker ever to don the white shirt needs a decent run of games at Premiership level before coming under consideration - but the summer tour of Australia throws up faint possibilities of a return to international activity. It is therefore a matter of some urgency that he recovers from this setback with all haste. If he is still injured this time next month, the chances of a return to the scene of his career-defining moment will fade from view.

Gavin Henson, a goal-kicking specialist with rather different issues, is back in the mix, however. The celebrity centre will be a celebrity full-back for Ospreys in their Celtic League game against Borders tonight, having completed a suspension imposed for his assault on the Leicester prop Alex Moreno during a Heineken Cup match in December - an elbow-driven incident that left Moreno with a busted nose.

Theoretically, a strong performance should put him in line for a summons to arms when Wales take on Ireland in next weekend's Six Nations fixture, but the lingering bad feeling over his ghosted diary of last season, in which he dished the dirt on friend and foe alike, closely allied to the controversy over Mike Ruddock's abrupt departure as coach on Tuesday night, means an immediate return might be seen as insensitive in the extreme.

There are two Premiership games this evening, both of them featuring players every bit as significant as Henson. Mark Cueto, Charlie Hodgson and Andrew Sheridan, regular starters for England this season, are expected to turn out for Sale in their contest with Leeds at Edgeley Park, while the likes of Martin Corry, Lewis Moody, Harry Ellis and Geordan Murphy will feature in the Leicester line-up for the meeting with Worcester at Welford Road. A bonus-point victory for Sale will take them 10 points clear of the field.

The Rugby Football Union has lost the support of Powergen, which is pulling out of all rugby financing at the end of the season. This is a blow to the RFU, which runs four national competitions under the Powergen name.

Powergen's parent company, E.ON, has agreed a major deal with the Football Association, and this has put the squeeze on its union-related sponsorship. In addition, it is reasonable to suggest that the long-running conflict over the new Powergen Cup put the company's five-year association with the RFU under strain.

The semi-finals of the inaugural cross-border competition will be played, one after another, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, in 15 days' time, during a break in the Six Nations Championship. The England hierarchy wanted all members of the international squad to be spared club duty, irrespective of the fact that sponsors and broadcasters - and, indeed, spectators - paid their money in the expectation of seeing two matches between full-strength sides.

As it turns out, the three English clubs involved - Bath, Leicester and Wasps - are determined to field their leading players. Llanelli Scarlets, however, may well be denied the services of Mark Jones, Matthew Watkins and Dwayne Peel if they are picked to play for Wales against Italy the following weekend.

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