Stevens injury puts White on stand-by

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The Independent Online

Matt Stevens, the Bath prop, was consulting a specialist after spraining his right shoulder during a Premiership match with London Irish last Saturday amid fears that he might struggle to make the cut for Murrayfield. Currently the most productive ball carrier in the England pack and sufficiently versatile to play on both sides of the scrum, Stevens succeeded Phil Vickery of Gloucester as the senior tight-head prop after the former captain broke down with the latest in a series of back injuries following a League game at Saracens early last month. A strong performer against Wales in the opening round of the Six Nations Championship, he was equally valuable in Rome 10 days ago, helping to lay the foundations for his country's first win on the road since the 2004 tournament.

Should the worst come to the worst, the England coach Andy Robinson will ask Julian White of Leicester to fill the gap. The Test Lion, armed with one of the dodgier disciplinary records in modern-day rugby, will hardly be found wanting at the set piece, but he does not possess so much as an ounce of Stevens' footballing ability and is significantly less mobile to boot. A final decision on the incumbent will be made today.

There was better news surrounding Tom Voyce, the Wasps wing who started the Italy game at full-back in place of his injured club colleague, Josh Lewsey. Voyce lost a couple of teeth when his mouth lost an argument with the knee of the strong-running Bristol wing Lee Robinson on Sunday, but is expected to recover in time for the trip north.

With Lewsey responding favourably to treatment on his injured shoulder, Robinson has an awkward call to make.

As the coach assesses the casualty fallout from the weekend - Stuart Abbott, the Wasps centre, also picked up an injury and has been replaced in the squad by the uncapped Northampton midfielder Jon Clarke - he will feel entirely justified in attempting to secure a free week for his players, an idea rejected out of hand by the Premiership fraternity.

Robinson was in conciliatory mood yesterday, however. "It's difficult to play tough internationals, then return to your club for another huge match," he said.

"Those players have come back tired, but after a bit of preparation they'll be fine."

Gloucester have beaten stiff competition for Marco Bortolami, the line-out specialist charged with leading Italy through the Six Nations. Bortolami, one of the most outstanding locks in the world game, will join from the French club Narbonne on a two-year deal.