Woodman forced to retire

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The Independent Online

Woodman suffered a lower back problem while training with Sale last September - and despite canvassing expert medical opinion at home and abroad, he has been forced to retire.

The 29-year-old ex-Gloucester forward won 22 Test caps, the highlight of which was the Rugby World Cup final triumph against Australia in 2003.

"I believe I have done everything I can to come back from this injury, consulting a number of top physios both in this country and abroad," Woodman said.

"It has been an incredibly frustrating time for me, but I have some great memories from rugby and hope that I will remain involved with the sport in some way."

The Plymouth-born Woodman gained his England debut in a 1999 World Cup warm-up match against the United States at Twickenham. His final Test appearance came in 2004 when England lost to New Zealand in Auckland.

The Northampton forward James Percival is recovering in hospital after a successful operation to stabilise his neck. The England Under-21 lock suffered a neck fracture during Saints' pre-season friendly against Munster, and underwent surgery yesterday at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary.

"The operation was a total success," said Northampton's director of rugby, Budge Pountney.