- 10 Sep 07, 01:29 PM
London - England’s World Cup campaign, which got off to a somewhat sluggish start against the USA on Saturday, looks as though it might take another unexpected turn.
The floundering world champions are set to be without Phil Vickery for Friday’s Titanic encounter with South Africa after the captain was cited for an apparent trip on Eagles centre Paul Emerick on Saturday.
It is hard to see how Vickery can escape a minimum of a one-game ban after the incident was missed by the referee in Lens.
Matt Dawson, England’s World Cup-winning scrum-half, says it would be a “huge blow” for England to lose Vickery.
And yet, would it really be such a loss?
There is no doubt the 31-year-old Vickery has been an outstanding player for England.
At his peak he was a fine scrummager – if not quite out of the destructive top drawer – and a powerful ball carrier who also weighed in with more than his fair share of tackles.
But three back operations have noticeably lessened the man nicknamed “Raging Bull”.
Bath’s Matt Stevens may not yet have the on-field aura of Vickery in his prime, and he is still looking for his very best form after returning from a serious shoulder problem.
The 24-year-old is mobile, explosive and a fine footballer, he more than holds his own in the scrum and, on present form, offers more round the park than Vickery.
It may be less as a prop and more as a captain that England miss Vickery.
He undoubtedly has the respect of his team and the question of who replaces him as captain is not easily answered.
Martin Corry and Jason Robinson do not convince in the role, Lawrence Dallaglio may be struggling to get in the team and Jonny Wilkinson’s latest injury means he must be a doubt for Friday.
England need players who can provide power all round the field if they are to have any chance of matching the Springboks in Paris.
A few years ago Vickery’s absence would have been a hammer blow for England, but if he is forced out of the match, will England really lose anything by having Stevens filling the number three shirt?
James Standley is a BBC Sport journalist based in London.