Woodward's injury crisis
January 11, 2000
England coach Clive Woodward tonight put a brave face on the injury problems that have threatened to sideline a handful of senior internationals for next month's Six Nations Championship opener against Ireland.
Captain Martin Johnson heads a casualty list which also features his second-row partner Danny Grewcock, England's top World Cup try-scorer Dan Luger and Leicester prop Darren Garforth.
Woodward has also effectively given up hope of long-term injury victims Kyran Bracken and David Rees playing any part in this season's Championship, while centre Jeremy Guscott's Test match retirement has left a massive midfield void.
Woodward's first training squad of the new millennium dispersed today following a 48-hour get-together at England's secluded new base in Bagshot, Surrey.
And the players returned to their clubs with Johnson insisting that he has not given up hope of tackling Ireland on February 5.
The British Lions skipper's Achilles problem means he has not played since December 12 and Woodward has already put Northampton scrum-half Matt Dawson on full alert to lead England at Twickenham in 25 days' time.
"Physically I feel fine, apart from the one injury,''Johnson said.
"It has taken a little longer than I thought, but hopefully I will be fit for the start of the Six Nations.
Grewcock is due to enter hospital next week for pre-booked knee surgery, making him probably more doubtful than Johnson, but Woodward still has quality second-row resources in revitalised Wasp Simon Shaw, the highly experienced Tim Rodber and Bristol's Garath Archer.
Saracens Wing Luger, a major success story of the Woodward reign, has not played any rugby since England's World Cup quarter-final defeat against South Africa in Paris more than 11 weeks ago.
Strong-running Luger, who joined Saracens from Harlequins, has still to appear for his new club, but like Johnson, is optimistic about the international season ahead.
Woodward could find himself without half the team triumphant in Dublin last year, yet he will not be making excuses prior to England's annual challenge for European supremacy.
"You've got to look at the players who are itching to play, and concentrate on them,'' he said.
"We've got more strength in depth in the squad than we had two years ago, and you cannot control an injury situation _ you've got to go with the players who are fit.''
Almost a third of the current training squad are uncapped, but that number could be reduced come selection time for Ireland, with Northampton wing Ben Cohen plus Wasps centres Mark Denney and Fraser Waters among those challenging.
Woodward rated the Surrey gathering a big success _ another one is planned for early next week _ before serious business starts and players are divided into senior and A squads.
"After the disappointment of the World Cup, I am more determined and I think that we will have an excellent side available to play Ireland,'' Woodward added.
"`It has been good to get everyone back together after the World Cup disappointment and the message over these couple of days has been to concentrate on all the things we've been doing well in the past 12 months or so.
"It seems a long time since whenever that day was in Paris, but we've been concentrating on the positives with a lot of new faces around the squad''.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.