Vickery's all-clear to return within month

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The Independent Online

Phil Vickery needed some cheering up, the pain of his latest war wound – he suffered another of his neck injuries while leading England in the World Cup final – having been exacerbated by the depressingly bitter, finger-pointing fallout from the big tournament in France, driven by two of his fellow senior internationals, Mike Catt and Lawrence Dallaglio. Yesterday, the 31-year-old Cornishman received his first positive news for a fortnight when he was told he did not require surgery and could expect to resume playing by the end of the month.

The tight-head prop will not be ready for duty this weekend, when Wasps launch the defence of their Heineken Cup title against the 2006 champions, Munster, in front of a 20,000-plus crowd at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, but he may well be restored to the front row by the time the back-to-back fixtures with the crack French side Clermont Auvergne come around next month. This will ease the club's concerns, as well as Vickery's.

With Pat Barnard, the close-season signing from Northampton, and Tom French, the 23-year-old loose-head specialist who played so brilliantly in last season's Heineken final, both among the long-term injured, the Londoners are down to their last three props.

Vickery could barely conceal his relief at the medical bulletin – an understandable reaction, given his long history of operations on career-threatening back and neck conditions. "I've been told that a good spell of rehab will see me right," he said. "I'm frustrated at not being able to play – I came back from the World Cup desperate to get straight back on the field – but this is far better than it might have been.

"It was a cumulative problem. I took a knock during the quarter-final against Australia, and for the rest of the competition every hit seemed to be in the same place. I never thought it was a really serious issue, but you never know with necks."

As things stand, he will be available for England's opening Six Nations match with Wales at Twickenham on 2 February, always assuming he is required. Quite who will be doing the requiring by then is an open question – Brian Ashton, the head coach during the World Cup and a popular choice to continue, is currently participating in the post-tournament review being conducted by the director of elite rugby, Rob Andrew, and does not have the foggiest idea whether he will be offered a new contract for 2008 – but Vickery was extremely supportive of him yesterday. A few feet away sat Dallaglio, who fairly (or not-so-fairly) slaughtered Ashton in his recently published autobiography. It was an intriguing few minutes, to say the least.

Dallaglio, the Wasps captain, also fancies a run in the Six Nations, despite the widespread assumption that he has made his last appearance for England. If things do not work out for him on the international front, he at least has a European crown to protect. "Wasps is where I do my nine-to-five job, and I regard these big Heineken Cup games as very special occasions," he said. "Four years ago, I came back from the World Cup with a winner's medal and immediately went into what was probably the best European tournament we've seen. This is the perfect time to play a competition of this quality. People are excited by rugby at the moment, and it's good to give them more of what they want. A Wasps-Munster game, full of players with points to prove? These are the matches you cherish."

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