Robinson's new order struck by injury to Cueto

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The Independent Online

No sooner had the England head coach Andy Robinson named his team to face the All Blacks than he was hit with a double injury blow. Given the way things have panned out this autumn perhaps it was only to be expected.

The latest casualties are Sale's Mark Cueto and the Wasps flanker Tom Rees. While Rees was unlikely to have made the replacements bench, the right winger Cueto is a serious loss to the England team, and it might be for more than this first Test.

Robinson said: "It is going to be touch and go for Argentina. Today was the first time he had run on his ankle. We had thought that because there was no structural damage that he was going to come through it OK, unfortunately he didn't. The medical team is treating him trying to get him fit for Argentina, but it is going to be very difficult for him to make it next week."

Cueto's pace and power on the ball would have been invaluable against the hard-hitting All Blacks, and his strike rate - 10 tries in 16 appearances - is impressive enough to make any side, even New Zealand are wary of his finishing skills.

But Robinson is something of a good scout and he was consequently well prepared for pretty well any and every eventuality. "We knew there was a potential problem with Cueto," Robinson said, "but a system was in place to allow for that, because it is important not to have any disruption in the build-up to a match.

"New Zealand is currently the best side in the world and to have any doubt about the fitness of any players or to have this week disrupted by sudden changes of personnel through injury I felt was the wrong statement to make."

As a consequence Robinson was able to call on the services of another lethal finisher. Wasps' Paul Sackey was immediately drafted into the team for his first cap - bringing the number of debutants in the starting line-up to three with Anthony Allen and Shaun Perry, and a fourth "rookie" in the 34-year-old tight-head prop Stuart Turner on the bench.

Robinson has seen enough of Sackey, who becomes the 38th player to start for England in their past five games, to know that the 6ft 1in, 14st winger certainly has the potential to pose similar problems for the All Blacks that Cueto most definitely would have.

"While the loss of any player is a disappointment you cannot dwell on it," Robinson said. "You have to move on. It is about the opportunity for another player. Paul Sackey has scored five tries in the Guinness Premiership this year and I have been at a number of Wasps games this year and I have seen his pace and power and I saw the try he scored against Castres in the Heineken Cup, he created it out of nothing. He has been on the fringes for the last few years, we know he has tremendous pace and good finishing ability, he also has a good step on him, so this is an opportunity for him."

And opportunity knocked for Sackey's club-mate Mark van Gisbergen, the Wasps full-back whose solitary England cap, against Australia last autumn, was restricted to a 10-minute cameo for a bleeding Cueto. Van Gisbergen was one of three players called up to join the training at Bisham Abbey yesterday, the others being the Castres centre Phil Christophers and the Bristol No 8 Dan Ward-Smith.

By then James Forrester, everybody's first choice for the No 8 spot until he was struck down by injury last week, was heading for hospital to undergo an operation on a torn cartilage in his left knee yesterday evening. Forrester will be out of action for up to six weeks.

Another England player stirred yesterday. Jonny Wilkinson (remember him?) is poised to return to competitive rugby for the first time since 8 September.

The 27-year-old England and Newcastle fly-half suffered medial ligament damage to his right knee against Worcester, but having returned to full training is in the mix for a comeback in the Falcons' Guinness Premiership match against Bristol at Kingston Park on Friday night.

"Jonny has taken a full part in training, and he is available for selection," said John Fletcher, the Newcastle director of rugby, "and at this stage Jonny will definitely be in the 22.

"We are waiting to find out whether or not we will get Toby Flood back from England, and obviously that could affect the make-up of the team.

"Jonny has been in the team training for a week, and he was pretty close to playing in Brive last Saturday, but we felt that wasn't the right time so we have waited the extra week."

Newcastle's Australian captain, Matt Burke, has demonstrated his commitment to the Falcons' cause by applying for British residency, to aid the club's Guinness Premiership push.

The 33-year-old World Cup winner has filed papers with the Home Office to become a British resident, as the All Black prop Joe McDonnell flies in to join the club.

Premiership regulations stipulate that only one "foreign" player can be on the field at any given time, and with Burke the only current overseas star in the squad he is hoping his English mother will qualify him for British status and allow both himself and McDonnell to be on the same pitch at the same time.

The exception to the one-foreigner rule is during the international windows, meaning both Burke and McDonnell could play together during November and the Six Nations, when more overseas players are permitted.

"I'm waiting for the flood of e-mails from Australia calling me a traitor," joked Burke, whose mother was born in London. According to the former Wallaby the paperwork was lodged some time ago and the process is well under way.

England's roll-call of injury


Olly Barkley

Fly-half/centre Fractured bone in right hand

Jonny Wilkinson

Fly-half Medial knee ligament damage

Matthew Tait

Centre Thigh injury

Mike Tindall

Inside-centre Calf injury

Mark Cueto

Winger Ankle injury

Josh Lewsey

Full-back Knee ligament damage

Olly Morgan

Full-back Shoulder injury


Matt Stevens

Prop Shoulder injury

Perry Freshwater

Prop Leg injury

Steve Borthwick

Lock Knee injury

Richard Hill

Flanker Knee injury

Tom Rees

Flanker Shoulder injury

James Forrester

No 8 Knee injury