Worsley out of England opener with neck injury

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The Independent Online

England have suffered a double blow in their build-up to the Six Nations with the news that Joe Worsley is out of the opening match against Wales at Twickenham a week tomorrow and Nick Easter is doubtful.

Bath's Michael Lipman has been called in to the 32-man squad in place of Worsley, who is suffering from a neck injury which prohibits him from full-contact training and is out of Wasps' Premiership match at Gloucester tomorrow.

Easter is struggling with a knee injury that has kept him out of action for Harlequins since the end of last month. This leaves the England head coach Brian Ashton with problems in the back row. Lipman, who won the first of his three caps against New Zealand in the summer of 2004, was called up as cover for Worsley on Monday, while Gloucester's Luke Narraway was standing by for Easter.

But yesterday Lipman confirmed that he had been upgraded from cover to squad member because Worsley was out of contention. If Easter is ruled out, it will leave Ashton with little choice but to play an inexperienced back row, because Lewis Moody is also battling to recover from a groin injury that has restricted him to one match for Leicester in the last five weeks.

There is the prospect of a back row against Wales comprising the likes of Lipman, or Tom Rees, James Haskell and the uncapped Tom Croft facing a vastly more experienced trio of Martyn Williams, Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas.

In the light of this, there was a touch of irony in the announcement yesterday concerning the retirement of one of England's best back row forwards of recent times.

Saracens' Richard Hill is to call it a day at the end of the season. The veteran of three British and Irish Lions tours, Hill won 71 England caps, lifting the 2003 World Cup on the way, and has played all his club rugby for Saracens since his debut in 1993.

Wasps suffered a blow yesterday when their hooker Raphael Ibanez was found guilty by a disciplinary panel of stamping on flanker Simon Easterby in the Heineken Cup match against Llanelli Scarlets earlier this month and was banned for four weeks.

The former France captain will miss Wasps' next three Premiership matches against Gloucester, Sale and Bath. Ibanez has the right to appeal.

The Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery is out of the Six Nations after being banned for eight weeks for stamping on the France international Julien Bonnaire in Munster's Heineken Cup tie against Clermont Auvergne 12 days ago.

The three-man panel chaired by Christopher Quinlan of England determined that the offence was at the top end of the level of seriousness and Flannery is banned up to and including 19 March, four days after Ireland's final Six Nations match against Scotland at Lansdowne Road.

The Clermont Auvergne flanker Alexandre Audebert, was also in the dock, having been cited for stamping on Munster's Ronan O'Gara two weeks ago and punching Alan Quinlan in the same match.

Both citings were upheld and Audebert has been suspended for eight weeks, although no separate suspension was imposed for the punching incident.

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