Jonny Wilkinson arm injury makes him a doubt for France quater-final
England fear Jonny Wilkinson could have made his last World Cup appearance for his country as the squad stumble from one fresh crisis to another in New Zealand. Martin Johnson admits he is "worried" Wilkinson will not be fit for Saturday's last-eight match against France at Eden Park, a game which could represent the fly-half's final opportunity to feature at the highest level.
On a weekend of wildly contrasting emotions for Johnson's squad, who were on the brink of departing the tournament before edging to a 16-12 win over Scotland, the 32-year-old Wilkinson's arm injury is among a litany of issues facing the management. The results of an initial scan on the player's right forearm were inconclusive and Johnson said: "We're hopeful but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried. We still need another day to see where it's going to go." Mike Tindall is also a doubt for the game with a dead leg.
Given England's stated intention not to pick any expat players from next year other than in exceptional circumstances, there must be a real possibility, should England lose to the French, of the Toulon-based Wilkinson's 13-year Test career drawing to an abrupt close. He won his 88th England cap against the Scots in Auckland and raised his points tally for his country to 1,177, a total bettered only by New Zealand's Dan Carter. Even if he is fit this weekend, his starting place must be under serious threat from Toby Flood.
At this precise moment, Johnson has other matters to preoccupy him, not least his decision to issue "a severe reprimand" to three players following a reported incident in a Dunedin hotel. James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton have all been warned about their future conduct after a hotel employee complained she had been the victim of lewd banter.
Johnson said the trio had been left "in no doubt" about his anger following a complaint about their conduct from a female hotel worker. All three were required to apologise formally to Annabel Newton after she was reportedly teased with lewd comments. According to the Sunday Mirror, Newton said the men "treated me with no respect" after she was called into a bedroom at the Southern Cross Hotel in Dunedin to retrieve a walkie-talkie.
"I was angry with them because they've opened themselves and the whole team up to what's now in the papers," said Johnson. "They stepped over the line and got it wrong. At the time they didn't think it was a cause of that much angst for Annabel but subsequently it was. They need to understand what their actions lead to. They were shocked when they understood how upset she had become. I've given them a severe reprimand."
It is understood video footage exists which shows the players were not guilty of serious misconduct. Some insiders allege the incident, which occurred three weeks ago, has been exaggerated for the purposes of financial gain. Johnson, nevertheless, accepts England's off-field reputation has become a matter of concern. "It's not great for them, their family or friends at home or the team. The reaction can sometimes be disproportionate but we have to be aware of that. Because we have the status we have and because we're in the country we're in and the tournament we're in, all those factors magnify things hugely. You have to be aware of that and don't let the opportunity be there for this to happen. They were left in no doubt about my feelings on the subject. I hope it doesn't happen again because it's not where we want to be."
On Friday the Rugby Football Union suspended two back-room staff, the kicking coach, Dave Alred, and conditioning coach, Paul Stridgeon, for one game for their part in the Wilkinson ball-switching saga which earned England further negative headlines. Tindall, meanwhile, has confessed to giving a misleading account of his well-publicised night out in Queenstown last month. Johnson has refused to discipline the player, insisting he had merely been "inaccurate in his recollection of the events of the night" rather than attempting "an orchestrated cover-up" following the release of pictures which show him visiting a second bar with a blonde companion. "There's video footage that was available at the time so I don't think he'd be foolish enough to think he could get away with lying. I think it's an innocent mistake and his recollection was incorrect."
Before England left for New Zealand, Johnson said he would not be banning alcohol or imposing curfews and he insisted on Sunday he had no plans to change that stance, insisting he was confident no more stories would emerge. "Yeah, I am. I think it was a shock to those players that they'd left themselves open to appearing on the front page of a paper. That's upsetting for them, and it's obviously not great for the team. I don't want to sit here talking about these allegations when we've qualified for the quarter-finals of a World Cup."
Just to put the lid on the weekend, Delon Armitage was due to appear at a disciplinary hearing overnight after being cited for a "dangerous high tackle" on Scotland's Chris Paterson. The offence carries a guideline suspension of between two and 10 weeks.