Vickery injury deepens crisis at Kingsholm

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The Independent Online

Gloucester's injury list has become worryingly long, even by the Premiership's uniquely bone-breaking and tendon-tweaking standards, with the news that the England prop Phil Vickery may be out of action for six weeks.

Gloucester's injury list has become worryingly long, even by the Premiership's uniquely bone-breaking and tendon-tweaking standards, with the news that the England prop Phil Vickery may be out of action for six weeks.

Vickery suffered a "blow- out" fracture around his eye against Worcester last week that will require surgery. The sometime England captain recently returned to action following six months of recovery from back surgery. Gloucester, who face Saracens at Vicarage Road today, are also missing their French hooker Olivier Azam, who has a shoulder problem; the England squad lock Alex Brown, who has hurt his arm; the England wing James Simpson-Daniel, who has a hamstring injury; and the Australian fly-half Duncan McRae, who has damaged his neck.

"There is no point crying about the situation," said Gloucester's long-suffering director of rugby, Nigel Melville, although anyone who has suffered a blow-out fracture to their eye might disagree. "There are a few medium- to long-term injuries, and it is hard to put definitive timescales on them all."

Saracens welcome back their captain, Hugh Vyvyan, from England duty, while Alex Sanderson, Cobus Visagie, Kevin Yates and Morgan Williams all start in a much-changed team, which has less to do with injury problems than the mortification caused by last week's particularly dreadful loss to Harlequins.

Wasps, the defending champions of England and Europe, welcome Leicester to High Wycombe today for the first match of what their coach, Warren Gatland, is calling a "three-Test series".

Leicester lead the Premiership with Wasps in third, and the two will meet in back-to-back Heineken Cup matches next month which should decide qualification from a pool that also contains Biarritz. Both clubs will be missing several Test players this afternoon, but the game still provides an opportunity to gain a psychological edge before the eagerly awaited European encounters.

"I see this match as part of a best-of-three Test series, two home games for Wasps and one away trip to Welford Road," said Gatland. "The side that comes out on top over the next month will be in the hunt for end-of-season honours. Therefore, a win on Sunday will go a long way in gaining a huge psychological advantage.

"While we may have won our last nine games in a row, I still feel we haven't hit top gear. At the moment, we are 'winning ugly', but there is still room for improvement."

Wasps will miss their England prop Tim Payne, who injured a knee in training this week. He joins the fly-half Alex King, who has a foot injury, the centre Fraser Waters and lock Martin Purdy on the physio's thankfully capacious couch.

The utility back Matt Cornwell replaces Leicester's top try-scorer, Seru Rabeni, who will be out for two weeks after minor knee surgery. "We are approaching this game as if it is a cup final," said the Tigers coach, John Wells. "It is really important that we do well this weekend, which would set the tone for the upcoming Heineken Cup matches."

Newcastle, who meet London Irish at the Madejski Stadium, have their former All Black centre Mark Mayerhofler back on the bench after missing eight games with a broken leg. The American lock Luke Gross also returns, after serving a suspension for fighting with the Newport-Gwent Dragons lock Ian Gough in a Heineken Cup game last month.

For the Irish, Mike Catt, once of Bath and England and no stranger to the injury clinic himself, makes his 100th Premiership appearance.

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