White injury stings Tigers' European preparations

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The Independent Online

Sir Clive Woodward may or may not have taken note of Will Greenwood's low-key return to rugby - 80 minutes for Harlequins' second-string at Bath on Tuesday night - as he weighs his options for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, but this much was certain yesterday: news of Julian White's latest injury setback both demanded and received the World Cup-winning coach's full attention.

White, the Leicester and England tight-head prop, had been suffering from neck and shoulder problems since the Six Nations fixture with Wales a little over seven weeks ago, and broke down again during a scrummaging session ahead of his club's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster. Leicester staff described the injury as a "stinger" - the painful and perturbing sensation regularly suffered by Jonny Wilkinson before he underwent surgery to repair ravaged nerves in his neck - and were by no means confident of White turning out in Dublin this Saturday.

The 18st Devonian, widely acknowledged as the outstanding scrummager in the British Isles, will be assessed tomorrow, when the Tigers make their final preparations for the sell-out at Lansdowne Road.

"Until then, we won't know whether or not he'll be with us," said John Wells, the Leicester coach, glumly. "These things happen during scrum practice, but as Julian has played only one game since the beginning of February and has a lot ahead of him, he could have done without this. So could we all."

Wells did not make too much of White's discomfort - quite rightly, given the far more serious scrummaging injury that has left Leicester's Under-21 international prop Matt Hampson in a critical condition in Stoke Mandeville Hospital - but Woodward must have been profoundly depressed by the news.

White is far and away the outstanding candidate for the Lions' Test berth against the All Blacks, and without him the tourists will travel south with a gaping hole in their front row.

Austin Healey probably thinks there is a gaping hole in the Tigers' back division for this weekend's tie, given that he is no longer a part of it. Certainly, he was unimpressed by Wells's move to relegate him to the bench after last weekend's Premiership defeat at Leeds. Healey said he had "no respect" for the decision, describing himself as "very disappointed".

For his part, Wells was almost as outspoken yesterday as Healey has been throughout his long and provocative career.

"Austin can be mercurial sometimes," he pronounced. "At other times, he can be bloody awful." And just in case the former England utility player did not get the message, Wells emphasised that his selection for this game was not, in Healey's case at least, based purely on the performance at Leeds, but on a careful study of recent form.

"It's not a knee-jerk reaction," the coach insisted. "If it had been, a lot of other people might have gone." Sam Vesty will play at full-back, with Geordan Murphy shifting to the right wing. Up front, Graham Rowntree returns at prop for Darren Morris, while Lewis Moody starts in the back row ahead of Will Johnson. Ben Kay, the England lock, will be on the bench if, as Wells said, "he shows any sign of being fit". Leicester will need him, given the desperate state of their line-out at Leeds.

Leinster have fitness issues of their own. Gordon D'Arcy, something of a Wilkinson-style tease this season, has been included in a 27-man squad, despite his continuing hamstring problems. His fellow centre, Shane Horgan, has also been named, even though the Dubliners have no idea whether he will recover from a thumb injury.

Ireland's second quarter-finalists, Munster, are in a far worse state ahead of their demanding tie against Biarritz on Sunday. Brian Lima, the great Samoan back signed specifically for the closing stages of the Heineken tournament, twanged his thigh muscle yesterday and joins two other internationals, Christian Cullen and Ronan O'Gara, on the casualty list.

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