Peel retires from front-line fray after neck injury takes 'nightmare' toll

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The Independent Online

"Advice like that puts things in perspective," said Peel, who joined Newcastle from Wharfedale eight seasons ago and follows two England Test front-rowers, Trevor Woodman and Phil Greening, into premature retirement as a result of the game's relentless physicality. "I don't want to stop playing the sport I love, especially when I feel I still have a lot of rugby left in me, but it's one of those things. I'm due to have surgery later this month and that will stabilise the damage and allow me to lead a normal life. I'm lucky in that respect."

Andrew said he was "devastated" at losing a player of Peel's quality. "More than anything, I'm desperately disappointed for Ian, who has suffered what must be a player's worst nightmare," said the former England and Lions outside-half. "I can't speak highly enough of his attitude and the standards he has reached on the pitch. Most of all, it has been an absolute joy working with a person of his calibre for so long. This is a bitter blow, because he signed a two-year contract in the summer and was an integral part of our future plans."

Peel has been in talks with the players' union, the Professional Rugby Players' Association, and can expect a decent compensation package. He will now decide whether to start coaching, or commit himself to a full-time teaching career.

The extravagantly gifted Saracens back Thomas Castaignède stands an even-money chance of forcing his way back into the French squad after two years among the also-rans. Bernard Laporte, the Tricolore coach, has been pressing Saracens to play the 30-year-old at outside-half rather than full-back or centre, not least because a number of his more familiar options in the No 10 shirt, including Frédéric Michalak, are struggling for fitness. The Watford-based club have yet to oblige, but Castaignède is considered a stop-gap answer in the pivot position anyway.

"His physical tests show that he's practically No 1 among the backs," Laporte said as he looked ahead to the Test against Australia in Marseilles on 5 November. "I have never had anything against Thomas. He was not at the last World Cup because others were better than him then. Now he is back among the best."

Laporte will watch Castaignède in Sunday's Heineken Cup match with Biarritz before naming his 22-man squad next week.

One man who can count himself out of the autumn international frenzy is Steve Walsh, the official from New Zealand who engaged in a touchline spat with England fitness co-ordinator Dave Reddin at the 2003 World Cup match with Samoa. He has now fallen foul of the authorities for an incident during this year's Lions tour.

Walsh exchanged words with the Ireland wing Shane Horgan during the match with Taranaki in New Plymouth and as a result, he has been temporarily ditched by the International Rugby Board. "I have to cop it," Walsh said yesterday. "That's the way it is and I have to get on with my life."