Kay expected to recover for Grand Slam showdown

Chris Hewett
Tuesday 25 March 2003 01:00

England expect Ben Kay, their elasticated provider-in-chief of quality line-out possession, to recover from a fairly nasty injury – a bang on the head during Saturday's Calcutta Cup victory over Scotland, which led to nerve damage in his neck – in good time for this weekend's Grand Slam decider with Ireland in Dublin.

This is just as well, as Kay's understudy, Danny "Hang on to your hats" Grewcock, is up before the bench on disciplinary charges tonight. It might have helped England's cause had Kay's father, a High Court judge, been in charge of this evening's proceedings at a Gatwick Airport hotel, but Grewcock will have to take his chances with Commodore Jeff Blackett of the Royal Navy.

The Bath lock is accused both of striking an opponent during the Premiership match with Northampton 10 days ago, and of acting in unsportsmanlike fashion. This last accusation concerns the substantial damage to protective headgear belonging to Mark Connors, the Northampton forward, who had been fighting with Grewcock and, by way of further complication, is considering legal action against Bath for alleged breach of contract.

Should Grewcock be found guilty and receive a suspension, he could ensure his presence in Dublin by lodging an immediate appeal. But that might backfire badly on the club who pay his wages, for any delayed ban would inevitably rule him out of at least one leg of the Parker Pen Challenge Cup semi-final with Saracens and some of the Premiership relegation scraps on which Bath's immediate prospects depend.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, plans to name his squad before the Grewcock hearing, and it is highly likely that the defendant will be included in it. "There won't be many changes to the 22 we selected for the Scotland game, but I've watched tapes of both the Calcutta Cup match and the A international, and there are one or two areas I might look at," said Woodward.

Kyran Bracken, who led the second-string to a 70-point victory last Friday night, is due a return to the senior bench, while Trevor Woodman, the Gloucester prop, may be considered for a start on the loose-head side of the scrum.

Ireland are considering changes to the combination that survived a traumatic afternoon against Wales in Cardiff. Two Leinster players, the full-back Girvan Dempsey and the ball-carrying flanker Victor Costello, will probably return if they recover from their respective calf and hamstring injuries; in addition, the Ulster lock Gary Longwell has an evens chance of replacing Leo Cullen in the engine-room.

Both camps talked up their chances of Grand Slam glory yesterday. "The more tight matches you win, the better it is for your confidence," said Declan Kidney, Ireland's assistant coach. "We've had a number of them now: Australia, France, Wales. Those experiences give you the strength to play right to the end, rather than stand out there on the pitch with five minutes to go thinking: 'I wish it was over'."

Woodward reported a feeling of intense excitement, rather than crippling nervousness. "This is a big game in a big year," he pronounced. "In terms of our development, it is an ideal test, a taste of what we can expect at the World Cup."

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