Woodman joins list of wounded

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The Independent Online

Kingsholm used to be the nursery of English scrummaging; nowadays, it is more like the nursing home of English scrummaging. Philippe Saint-André, the Gloucester coach, yesterday accepted that his international loose-head prop, Trevor Woodman, would not play before the new year because of a neck injury suffered during the early stages of England's summer tour of South Africa.

Kingsholm used to be the nursery of English scrummaging; nowadays, it is more like the nursing home of English scrummaging. Philippe Saint-André, the Gloucester coach, yesterday accepted that his international loose-head prop, Trevor Woodman, would not play before the new year because of a neck injury suffered during the early stages of England's summer tour of South Africa.

Woodman thus joins another Test prop, Phil Vickery, and the highly rated home-grown hooker, Chris Fortey, on an injury list that threatens to emasculate the Cherry and White set-piece before a blow is struck in anger.

Gloucester's strife in the strong-arm department was a factor in their decision to cancel a pre-season trip to Argentina. "The thing now is to concentrate on finding the best replacement for Trevor," said Saint-André, mournfully. The Frenchman may cast his eyes back across the Channel and offer temporary terms to the former Bÿgles-Bordeaux prop Serge Simon, who performed one or two wildly popular turns at Kingsholm last season. As Simon possesses one of the most able medical minds in Europe, he might even work out a way of minimising Woodman's spell on the sidelines.

"Basically, all I can do is rest," said the 23-year-old Devonian yesterday. "I'm looking at six months. I can still run and do weights, but I can't take any contact on my neck. It's disappointing, but I have to look at this positively; if I want to play for another eight years or so, six months does not seem so long if I can come back fitter and stronger."

There seems little doubt that the Allied Dunbar Premiership new boys, Rotherham, will be a whole lot stronger come the seasonal kick-off on 19 August than they were last May, when they wrapped up promotion with a two-leg play-off victory over Bedford. The Yorkshiremen, the first side from the Ridings to feature in the domestic top flight, have signed the outstanding Samoan No 8 Isaac Fea'unati from London Irish - by some distance the most striking of their frequent forays into the transfer market.

Rotherham's Pacific connection was further strengthened yesterday when they named Mike Umaga, a former Samoan Test full-back and the older brother of the All Black wing Tana, as player-coach for the new campaign. Umaga major will have a raft of fresh talent at his disposal - Chris Murphy, the gangling lock from Sale, and Russell Earnshaw, the former West Hartlepool and Bath flanker, are both on board, as is the Zimbabwean utility forward Leon Greef - and he is still in the hunt for another major overseas import.

One of the reasons why Rotherham are wielding the cheque book with such abandon is a new Premiership sponsorship agreement with Allied Dunbar, who have decided to renew their commitment after an initial three-year stint at the financial sharp end. The latest deal is thought to be worth something in the region of £15m and to cover the period between next month and May 2003.

The Rugby Football Union, under considerable pressure after guaranteeing each of the 12 élite clubs £1.8m per season from broadcasting and sponsorship receipts, now have a chance of balancing the books.

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