England's world champion rugby team have had such trouble operating within the law during the Six Nations Championship that they have lost two matches to penalty kicks. They do, however, understand Sod's Law - the only one that can be applied to the red rose army in their current state of disarray. Yesterday, they learned that the minor finger infection suffered by their most energetic loose forward, Lewis Moody of Leicester, had become a major one. So major, indeed, that Moody spent yesterday on a drip in a London hospital.
The 26-year-old flanker did not travel to Dublin with his colleagues, who face Ireland at Lansdowne Road on Sunday, and his chances of joining them in time for the game were rated as "very slim" by the head coach, Andy Robinson, who spends so much of his working week talking about the sick and wounded that he is now known as Florence Nightingale. Robinson was very nearly as grumpy as the celebrated nurse yesterday as he discussed Moody's predicament, and if ears were not burning in Leicester, a new ice age must have struck the East Midlands.
"Lewis cut his finger in the game against France, and it became infected when he played the last few minutes off the bench for Leicester against Newcastle last weekend and got some mud in the wound," Robinson said, a look of purest exasperation on his face. "Leicester were about 80 points up at the time." Asked whether he was happy at the Tigers' decision to throw Moody on late in a game they had already won a dozen times over - the final score was 83-10 - he replied: "What do you think?" Leicester made no official statement on the matter, but they were less than sympathetic in their private response, pointing out that a number of players - not least Julian White, their senior tight-head prop - had returned to Welford Road in pieces from spells of representative duty.
Robinson has made it his business to build bridges between the England hierarchy and the Premiership clubs, having seen a notoriously fragile relationship placed under strain last September by Sir Clive Woodward's fusillade of criticism over player access. This sudden spat will not help the construction process one little bit.
If Moody fails to respond positively to the stream of antibiotics pumped into his veins, Andy Hazell, of Gloucester, will start in the back row with Chris Jones, of Sale, on the bench. Given the potency of Ireland's line-out work, Jones might have been included in the first place. There again, Robinson probably felt the need to name something approaching a settled side, having received so many doctors' notes from important players in recent weeks. He could certainly have done without this latest complication.
To make matters worse, England may have lost the services of Chris Horsman, the West Country-reared Worcester prop - and lost them for good, rather than for a few days. Alan Phillips, the Wales team manager, indicated yesterday that the form tight-head specialist in the Premiership had opted to play representative rugby for the Red Dragonhood, rather than swear allegiance to the country of his birth. Horsman hopes to qualify for Wales on residential grounds in May, although the International Rugby Board has yet to be persuaded of the legitimacy of his decision.
Scotland named Simon Taylor, their world-class No 8, in the side to face Italy at Murrayfield tomorrow - a game over which the Six Nations wooden spoon hangs like the sword of Damocles. Taylor will play on the blind-side flank rather than in his customary position, but the down-at-heel Scots would happily have plonked him on the wing had it been their only means of getting him on the field.
Edinburgh's finest has not played Test rugby for a year - he wrecked his knee ligaments during last season's championship game with Ireland - but has still been talked of as a potential first-choicer for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand this summer. He replaces the injured Jason White, the most effective of the Scottish loose forwards over the first two rounds of the tournament, with Ally Hogg and Jon Petrie remaining at No 8 and open-side flanker respectively.
"I don't think there is extra pressure on me because I've never been a player who produces miracles," Taylor said in an attempt to lighten the weight of expectation on his shoulders. "It's not as though I kick goals or score loads of tries. Whatever the phrase world-class means, I'll be like everybody else in the team, trying to do my best." Another Edinburgh player, the wing Simon Webster, replaces Simon Danielli in the only other change to the starting line-up.Reuse content