Vickery captains England as Dallaglio drops out

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The Independent Online

Lawrence Dallaglio is getting boring in his old age. The last time he forfeited the England captaincy, shortly before the 1999 World Cup, he was suffering from the after-shock of a full-blown sex and drugs scandal presented in glorious tabloid Technicolor. This time, he is suffering from nothing more sensational than a dodgy hand. It has cost him, though: Dallaglio will miss the England-Barbarians game at Twickenham on 26 May, as well as next month's short tour of Argentina.

The Wasps No 8 excused himself from red rose duty yesterday, confirming that he would undergo surgery to repair tendons in his hand next week. He will, however, play for his club in the final Premiership match of the season at Bath on Sunday – a decision that will hearten the West Countrymen no end, given their proximity to the relegation zone.

Clive Woodward, the England manager, has asked Phil Vickery of Gloucester to lead the team in Dallaglio's stead. The Lions tight-head prop was chosen ahead of two scrum-halves, Kyran Bracken of Saracens and Matthew Dawson of Northampton, and, assuming he makes the June date with the Pumas in Buenos Aires, will be the seventh player to lead his country since Woodward succeeded Jack Rowell in the autumn of 1997.

Dallaglio's frustration can know no bounds. Invalided out of last summer's Lions tour of Australia with a serious knee condition, he underwent reconstructive surgery on his return and did not lace up a boot in anger until mid-March, when he appeared for Wasps at Sale.

His club form in recent weeks has been inspirational – the Londoners have not lost since he returned to their starting line-up – and a successful tour of duty in South America might easily have persuaded Woodward, a loyal friend and supporter during the dark days of '99, to leave the captaincy with him.

Vickery's appointment is interesting, to say the least: indeed, the Premiership grandees might consider it provocative, given that the big West Countryman is one of the internationals at the centre of an almighty argument between the clubs and the Rugby Football Union over so-called "player burn-out".

The clubs want last season's Lions to stay at home this summer and consider Vickery, who played all three Tests against the Wallabies, to be one of those in most need of some quality R and R.

Meanwhile, the penultimate act of the Premiership campaign unfolds this evening. Bottom-placed Leeds, desperate for some sort of return from their visit to Sale, have made a stack of changes from the side that lost badly at Harlequins last Friday night. Steve Bachop, Chris Hall and the Argentinian wing Octavio Bartolucci return to the back division, while three forwards – the prop Justin Wring, the flanker James Ponton and the No 8 Carl Hogg – get a run up front. Sale have included the Samoan Apollo Perelini in a 28-man squad.

Newcastle and London Irish, two clubs who may easily find themselves squabbling over a single Heineken Cup qualifying place, meet at Kingston Park, while Bristol seek to overhaul Northampton at the Memorial Ground.

The Midlanders saw their prospects of a top-four finish dented by Wasps at the weekend, and will not have it all their own way against opponents who have suddenly discovered the art of scoring tries.

Organisers of next year's World Cup in Australia will announce the draw and venues for the tournament at a launch in Sydney on 20 May.

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