Farrell joins England’s growing sicklist


England will begin preparations for their Six Nations championship clash against France with an injury cloud hanging over the heads of three of their most prominent stars – Phil Vickery, Jonny Wilkinson and Andy Farrell.

Vickery, the current England captain, was felled – apparently by a punch from Bristol replacement Jason Hobson – in the 64th minute of Wasps’ 28-0 Guinness Premiership win over the West Country side on Sunday.

Vickery – looking decidedly unsteady – was helped off the pitch, and if the 30-year-old is found to have suffered concussion, it is expected to rule him out for three weeks.

That means he will miss the remainder of England’s Six Nations campaign, starting against France at Twickenham and finishing with a clash against Wales in Cardiff on March 17.

Farrell, one of the players criticised for his performance in the record defeat to Ireland, was unable to prove he deserves to keep his England jersey after he suffering a back spasm on Sunday morning and was forced to pull out of Saracens’ Guinness Premiership match to Sale Sharks.

It is the second time in recent weeks that the former Rugby League star has gone down with the problem.

Jason Robinson was not in the Sale team because of the injury which kept him out against Ireland, but the visitors welcomed back Mark Cueto. He captained the side from full-back rather than his usual position on the wing.

Wilkinson limped out of his team’s 38-12 Guinness Premiership defeat at London Irish, and is due to be assessed by Falcons medical staff.

Newcastle rugby director John Fletcher said Wilkinson had come off just before the end because of cramp.

But there will be inevitable concerns about possible hamstring trouble, especially as Wilkinson almost missed England’s record 43-13 Six Nations loss to Ireland eight days ago after his hamstring tightened prior to a training session 48 hours before the game.

England head coach Brian Ashton, whose 28-man training squad is preparing to assemble at Bath University, will also require checks on Jason Robinson (neck), Magnus Lund (concussion), Steve Borthwick (rib) and David Strettle (leg).

Sale Sharks pair Robinson and Lund sat out domestic action this weekend, but wing Strettle – a try-scoring debutant against Ireland – picked up a knock during Harlequins’ league match against leaders Leicester.

Lock Borthwick, meanwhile, lasted just 45 minutes of Bath’s appointment with Worcester, and he could now see his hopes of a Test recall dashed.

Quins boss Dean Richards described Strettle’s injury as “just a bump to the leg,” but Bath head coach Steve Meehan said of Borthwick: “He is in quite a bit of discomfort. It is a rib injury, and he will have a scan.”

Wilkinson has played just three of England’s 33 Tests since their 2003 World Cup triumph, returning to Test action for this season’s Six Nations tournament and amassing 50 points in appointments with Scotland, Italy and Ireland.

Fletcher said: “He has just got cramp, and that is why we took him off.

“Whether the cramp was anything else we will have to see. Basically, all you can do with that sort of acute injury is ice it. There is nothing else you can do for 24 to 48 hours.

“The problem with Jonny is that he has never pulled a muscle. He has done one or two other things, but he has never pulled a muscle, so he does not have an understanding of the hamstring area.

“I would imagine there are some damaged fibres, so we will just have to wait and see how bad it is. It will be a time thing.”

If Wilkinson is ruled out of Ashton’s plans to face the French, then his Newcastle colleague Toby Flood could realistically expect a first Test start following four appearances off the bench this season.

Veteran World Cup winner Mike Catt would be another possible option, while Ashton could even go outside his existing training grou

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