Wilkinson doubtful for cup quarter-final return

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The Independent Online

Two Red Rose captains are among a trio of England players trying to make a comeback after injury in this weekend's European competitions, as they bid to catch the eye of the Lions' selectors.

Two Red Rose captains are among a trio of England players trying to make a comeback after injury in this weekend's European competitions, as they bid to catch the eye of the Lions' selectors.

Of the three it is the anointed England captain Jonny Wilkinson who looks to have the least chance of appearing in his club's colours, against Stade Français in the Heineken Cup quarter-final in Paris tomorrow.

Wilkinson, who has been plagued by shoulder trouble, neck problems and biceps injuries, added damaged medial ligaments in his left knee to that list three weeks ago and Rob Andrew, the Falcons' director of rugby, having named the England fly-half among 11 replacements against Stade, gives him only a 50-50 chance of making it on to the bench.

"Jonny has done part of our training this week, but hasn't done some of it," Andrew explained yesterday, "and we will have to wait until Saturday morning before we decide on him." Colin Charvis, who also missed the Six Nations, could also make it on to the bench.

Jason Robinson, who deputised for Wilkinson before injury struck, is a definite starter for Sale in their tricky-looking European Challenge Cup semi-final first leg against Connacht in Galway tomorrow.

The England full-back missed the last two rounds of the Six Nations Championship after breaking a thumb, but yesterday was cleared to play by the Sale medical team.

The third England player to return after injury is the wing Ben Cohen, who has recovered from a fractured cheekbone. Cohen comes into the centre for Northampton for tonight's daunting Heineken Cup quarter-final away to Toulouse. "It's a huge game", Cohen said. "They're the Chelsea of rugby if you like. They've got a lot of internationals on the bench and a lot playing, but hopefully they'll have an off day and we'll have the game of our lives."

The Saints' head coach Budge Pountney added: "We have lost to Toulouse in a quarter-final there before. So we know about the fantastic atmosphere their fans create." That previous defeat was two years ago when Saints lost 32-16, but with a victory over Harlequins last weekend still fresh in their memory Pountney insists his team is going all out for victory.

"We are going to France in a relaxed state of mind," he said. "We will not have to worry about league position, so we will just go full on into it. We are most definitely the underdogs, so everybody thinks we are just turning up to make up the numbers."

Leeds had a double boost yesterday when young winger Tom Biggs signed a two-year contract and Andre Snyman, South Africa's most capped centre, committed himself to a further year at Headingley.

The news was not so good for the All Black Ali Williams. The Auckland Blues lock lost his appeal against a six-week ban for stamping against Canterbury Crusaders a fortnight ago.

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