Saturday, November 7, 2009

A battle of England V Argentina at Twickenham

LONDON — World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson was recalled on Monday to an injury-hit England squad for next month's Tests at Twickenham having himelf briefly retired from rugby because of a neck problem.

England manager Martin Johnson, who was Thompson's World Cup winning captain six years ago, has lost nearly two teams' worth of players because of injuries for next month's Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, including his first-choice front row.

Thompson retired in April 2007 after a neck operation but the now 31-year-old returned months later to play for Brive, having initially joined the French club as a coach.

He did make a brief England return with an appearance off the bench late-on in June's 37-15 win over Argentina but this was seen as a stop-gap effort.

Ironically, given his injury problems since landing the winning drop-goal in the 2003 World Cup final, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson - also now playing his club rugby in France, for Toulon - was fit enough to be included in the revised 32-man squad.

Johnson's selection saw him pick three uncapped players in forwards David Barnes, Richard Blaze and Courtney Lawes while prop Duncan Bell returned after a gap of four years.

"The whole squad is looking forward to three very tough games in November," Johnson said. "We've had to make a number of changes because of injuries but we have strength in depth.

"Each of the players coming in has the opportunity to push themselves into contention for the 2nd match England v Argentina on November 14."

Highly-rated lock Lawes, still only 20, got his chance after Nick Easter tore a calf muscle during Harlequins's 26-22 Premiership win over Worcester on Saturday that saw him ruled out for four weeks.

That day also saw veteran Leicester prop Julian White sidelined after tearing a hamstring in the 18-12 Premiership loss to London Irish.

Veteran prop White's injury came just days after it was confirmed ex-England captain Phil Vickery was ruled out for three months because of back surgery.

Fellow prop Andrew Sheridan was already sidelined for at least four months with a dislocated shoulder.

With hooker Lee Mears already out because of knee ligament damage, Johnson had to revamp what was an all British and Irish Lions front row while experienced lock Simon Shaw is currently injured as well.

And there have been injuries behind the scrum, with full-back Delon Armitage (shoulder), centre Riki Flutey (shoulder), fly-half Toby Flood (knee) and scrum-half Harry Ellis (knee) seeing their squad spots taken by David Strettle, Shane Geraghty, Andy Goode and Richard Wigglesworth respectively.

Saracens second-row Steve Borthwick, England's captain last season, has retained the leadership of the team for all three Tests.

"Steve has been appointed captain and I'm sure he will continue to do an excellent job," Johnson said.

Revised England 32-man squad for the November internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand:


Matt Banahan (Bath), Danny Care (Harlequins), Mark Cueto (Sale), Ben Foden (Northampton), Shane Geraghty (Northampton), Andy Goode (Brive/FRA), Dan Hipkiss (Leicester), Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Ugo Monye (Harlequins), David Strettle (Harlequins), Mathew Tait (Sale), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Richard Wigglesworth (Sale), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon/FRA)


Steffon Armitage (London Irish), David Barnes (Bath), Duncan Bell (Bath), Richard Blaze (Leicester), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), George Chuter (Leicester), Jordan Crane (Leicester), Tom Croft (Leicester), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), James Haskell (Stade Francais/FRA), Ben Kay (Leicester), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Lewis Moody (Leicester), Tim Payne (Wasps), Steve Thompson (Brive/FRA), David Wilson (Bath), Joe Worsley (Wasps)

Fixtures (all matches at Twickenham):

Nov 07: England v Australia (1430GMT)

Nov 14: England v Argentina (1430GMT)

Nov 21: England v New Zealand (1430GMT)

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