Todd humbled by support in fight against skin cancer

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Robert Todd, the rumbustious New Zealand-born centre who has earned his corn in the Premiership for the lion's share of the professional era, has skin cancer. His condition, recently diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma, is causing serious concern at his club, Sale, with whom he was negotiating a new contract when the illness struck.

The 35-year-old former London Irish and Gloucester midfielder, renowned throughout the élite end of the English game for his intense physicality, is the victim of a freakish set of circumstances. A malignant growth developed on his arm after he split open an old scar while playing for Sale some 18 months ago. The growth has now been removed, but Todd lost a good deal of muscle tissue as a result of the surgery and has still to regain full use of his arm. In addition, specialists have identified nodules on his lymph glands and lungs and are currently attempting to establish if, and how far, the cancer has spread.

"I've had great support from around the clubs," Todd said in a statement yesterday. "I am humbled by the calls and texts I have received from other players, partners and supporters. This is just a curve ball that God sometimes throws you; luckily I have good skills when it comes to balls. I know I can beat this."

He identified his former London Irish colleague Jarrod Cunningham, currently fighting the bravest of battles against a form of motor neurone disease, as an inspiration. "The future is uncertain, but nothing in comparison to what my friend Jarrod has overcome," he added.

If he has his way, Todd will be at Edgeley Park in nine days' time for Sale's Premiership semi-final - the home tie they earned through finishing top of the league table after a 22-match regular season. The Stockport-based club will learn the identity of the opposition after tomorrow's concluding round of matches. It is likely to be either Gloucester or Wasps, who meet at Kingsholm in the big fixture of the weekend.

Meanwhile, the former England scrum-half Kyran Bracken will play his last competitive game of rugby when Saracens, who have confirmed the recruitment of the Australian backs coach Richard Graham from Bath, visit London Irish. Taine Randell, a fellow one-time international who led the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup, will not have the pleasure of one final gallop round the greensward, however. Randell, who plans to take a job in the City this summer, has been suffering from a knee injury and is not considered fit, even for the bench.

Newcastle will give Jonny Wilkinson his first start since November when they host the relegated Leeds at Kingston Park, thereby giving him the opportunity to end another injury-ravaged season on an optimistic note. It will be a significant day for the Tynesiders. For the first time in the brief history of the Premiership, a club will field an all-English 22-man squad.