Wilkinson shrugs off injury for long-awaited comeback

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The Independent Online

Jonny Wilkinson is back. The long-awaited return will not be heralded by a fatted calf, however, but there will be a virtually full house to greet their England hero when he trots out for Newcastle Falcons in their vital Zurich Premiership clash against Northampton at Kingston Park tomorrow.

The England fly-half has now recovered from the shoulder injury which has sidelined him since the World Cup final in Sydney last month.

Rob Andrew, the Falcons' director of rugby, said yesterday: "It's great to have him back. He has trained well all the way through. We said two weeks ago that we thought he would be ready for this game. It was just a question of giving him a couple of weeks to make sure the shoulder had settled down."

The Falcons are handily placed in the table, but Andrew said: "I have asked the players to step up a notch or two, and having Jonny back will help. He is returning to a side that is playing good rugby, but it is one that just needs a little bit of help and we are fairly confident that Jonny can supply that."

Another England World Cup squad member, Danny Grewcock, makes his first start in the Premiership this season when the league leaders, Bath, travel to Saracens today.

The big second-rower, who is the Bath club captain, was absent through injury at the World Cup, but played both matches in the first round of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup against the Italian minnows L'Aquila.

In the backs, Martyn Wood returns at scrum-half while the World Cup-winner Mike Tindall also makes his first start of the season. "It's great to have these guys back from the World Cup and it certainly makes selection interesting," Bath's head coach, John Connolly, said. "We've gone well in the Zurich Premiership in terms of results and it's important now that we keep momentum going."

Matt Perry and Matt Stevens will face late fitness tests on a groin and shoulder respectively. "Pezza [Perry] has a slight niggle, nothing more, but if he's not right then we'll move Wylie Human to fullback and rejig the midfield a little," Connolly said. "Stevens has a sore shoulder after the England game last weekend but he's likely to be involved."

Saracens for their part have rung the changes - seven to be precise. With Richard Hill suffering the effects of playing for England against the New Zealand Barbarians last week, their head coach, Rod Kafer, is able to welcome back Taine Randell into the back row as well as Kyran Bracken at scrum-half - both played at Twickenham last week.

Raphael Ibanez starts his first match for Sarries, while in the backs Paul Bailey returns from injury, which moves Denis Cech back on to the wing and Richard Haughton to fullback. Adryan Winnan goes to the bench where he is joined by new signing Robbie Kydd, who was playing for Bath just four days ago.

Lawrence Dallaglio misses Wasps' game against London Irish due to a slight knee injury suffered last weekend against Saracens, but the injury is not that serious and the No 8 is only expected to miss this one match. Joe Worsley takes over from Dallaglio.

The bottom club, Rotherham Titans, who gained their first point last week against London Irish, have unveiled three more newcomers ahead of today's match against Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park.

The former England and Bath hooker Andy Long, the South African lock forward Corniel van Zyl, and the Samoa and former ACT Brumbies and NSW Waratahs back-rower Des Tuiavii, who played for the club seven season ago, are all in the starting XV.

The England internationals Dan Scarbrough, David Rees and Mark Regan all miss Leeds' trip to Leicester. Regan has still not recovered from a foot injury, while Scarbrough is suffering from flu, and Rees injured his knee against Gloucester.

Diego Albanese, who played for the New Zealand Barbarians last weekend, comes in for Rees, with the Wales international Matt Cardey called up for Scarbrough.