Simpson-Daniel in doubt for Gloucester

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The Independent Online

Someone, somewhere has it in for James Simpson-Daniel, the hyphenated hero of the Kingsholm Shed and, by common consent, the most imaginative attacking talent in the English game. When Sir Clive Woodward, the red rose coach, confirmed this week that he would attend this afternoon's Premiership set-to between Gloucester and Newcastle, it was clear that Simpson-Daniel, Henry Paul and Andy Gomarsall were foremost in his thinking. All three are pushing for a Six Nations place against Italy; all three require the official seal of approval.

But while Paul and Gomarsall are likely to play a full 80 minutes in front of the man who matters, Simpson-Daniel is up against it once again. Unable to train during England's two-day rendezvous in Surrey earlier this week - the 22-year-old Gloucester wing is suffering from rib trouble - he will not feature this afternoon unless he passes a fitness test that few locals expect him to survive.

Simpson-Daniel draws bad luck the way other people draw breath. Glandular fever cost him eight caps last season - had he not been cruelly stricken after impressing the Twickenham faithful with his performances against New Zealand and Australia in the autumn of 2002, Josh Lewsey might never have forced his way into Woodward's plans. More depressing still, the after-effects of his condition counted against him when it came to World Cup selection.

Should he miss today's game against a Newcastle side shorn of Jonny Wilkinson and Michael Stephenson and barely able to put one foot in front of the other away from Kingston Park, Woodward will ponder long and hard before considering him for duty in Rome. The coach is thought to be tempted by the option of running Jason Robinson at outside centre, a move that would create a vacancy in the back three. If Simpson-Daniel misses his chance, Iain Balshaw might be the beneficiary and Balshaw is capable of holding down a position on a long-term basis.

Try as it might, the Premiership cannot shake off the shadow of the Six Nations at this time of year. Bath, the leaders, are deeply unhappy at the disruption caused by the preparatory gatherings of the various international teams, and with good reason. Kevin Maggs, an important member of the back division, has been away with Ireland all week, and while England were chewing the fat on Monday and Tuesday, the West Countrymen could not raise sufficient senior players to hold a meaningful training session. All this in the build-up to today's match with Wasps, which will go a long way to deciding the pecking order for the end-of-season play-offs.

Two contenders for the England scrum-half position, Matt Dawson and Kyran Bracken, will start matches for their respective clubs today: the former for Northampton against the basement team Rotherham, the latter for Saracens in the attractive match with an increasingly dangerous Harlequins side who have both eyes fixed firmly on a play-off place. As usual these days, the Stoop Memorial Ground will be full.

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