Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Nation Holds Its Breath as Wilkinson Battles On

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Nation Holds Its Breath as Wilkinson Battles On

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS JONES

ENGLAND'S Grand Slam hopes are a Jonny Wilkinson injury away from being fatally flawed. The health of the Newcastle outside-half will dominate a critical weekend of Zurich Premiership matches.

While the Welsh players have remained in camp as an international squad to avoid unnecessary damage, England's finest are back in action in the league, leaving head coach Clive Woodward to worry about further injury problems in a Six Nations campaign already disfigured by the loss of key players.

At least Woodward will get control of his players for the following two weeks as the Six Nations climaxes with games against Scotland (22 March) and a possible Slam decider in Ireland a week later (30 March).

Woodward desperately needs Wilkinson to survive Newcastle's vital home league match with European champions Leicester on Sunday uninjured to ease worries about England's championship challenge.

With Sale No10 Charlie Hodgson out for six months after a knee ligament operation, the health of a new group of potential England outsidehalves has suddenly become relevant, with Northampton's Paul Grayson in the squad to face Scotland - four years after his last cap.

Grayson, London Wasps' Alex King, Bath's Mike Catt and Ollie Barkley and Harlequins centre Will Greenwood are the men Woodward has on his short list in case something dreadful happens to Wilkinson. That is a possibility given the amount of damage the Newcastle captain sustains in a normal match.

Wilkinson was forced off during last Sunday's win over Italy with a recurrence of the shoulder trouble that has dogged him all season and Leicester are unlikely to ignore this fact. The league matches are totally unforgiving with European qualification places up for grabs at the top and the real fear of relegation dominating matters at the other end.

Newcastle are bottom and can't afford to let any of their fellow strugglers create clear water and that is why Wilkinson will be pressed into action even though the rest of the rugby nation wants him wrapped in cotton wool. Grayson will be on duty for Northampton tomorrow at struggling Bath, who will feature Catt and Barkley in another full-blooded contest. …

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