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RUGBY UNION: Vickery suffers final blow.

Byline: Andrew Baldock

England prop Phil Vickery is set to be the only injury absentee on Saturday when Gloucester target Powergen Cup final glory against Northampton at Twickenham.

The Lions tight head is recuperating from back surgery but Gloucester rugby director Nigel Melville does not anticipate losing anyone else from his plans.

He said: 'Phil is a long-term injury, but everyone else seems in good shape. Everyone looks to be fine.'

Gloucester's international players have reported back from Six Nations duty in Ireland last weekend, while Henry Paul is building towards the final following his Hong Kong Sevens exploits with a victorious England squad on Sunday.

Gloucester are hoping to get their hands on English rugby's major knock-out prize for the first time since 1982. They shared the cup that year after drawing 12-12 in the final against a Moseley side captained by Derek Nutt.

In addition to securing a Twickenham day out, they head the Zurich Premiership by seven points.

That has been achieved against a backdrop of financial uncertainty at Kingsholm after club owner Tom Walkinshaw's motor-racing empire ran into severe problems.

With a reduced salary cap also operating next season, office staff redundancies were recently discussed.

'Everyone knows how it is,' Melville said. 'But we are paid to do a job and we just get on with it - which is the way it should be.

'There is a very solid bond within the team. They are very close and work very hard and it's a fantastic team spirit. It's a joy to come to work with these guys.'

Melville is likely to announce a 22 or 23-man squad today, which will include 37-year-old prop Andy Deacon.

The veteran is set for a place in the Gloucester starting XV, matching former Leicester player Robin Cowling's achievement. He was 37 when the Tigers beat Gosforth in the 1981 final.

Melville must also decide on his midfield combination, whether to stick with the successful recent centre partnership of James Simpson-Daniel and Paul or recall an established pairing in Robert Todd and Terry Fanolua.

Simpson-Daniel and Paul were a superb double act during the semi-final victory over Leicester last month, when Todd was suspended and Fanolua injured.

That semi-final victory was overshadowed by a dispute about front-row replacements and referee Steve Lander's decision to call for uncontested scrums late in the game.

The Rugby Football Union ruled that the result should stand, but requested an urgent review of regulations in an attempt to avoid any repeat. Gloucester claimed they did not have any players who could act as fully-fledged props after Deacon and Rodrigo Roncero had gone off injured. Substitute prop Trevor Woodman was already on the field, leaving the Cherry and Whites with no other options for the front row, so referee Lander had to call for uncontested scrums.

Leicester decided not to appeal against the RFU ruling but Melville yesterday confirmed that clarification had been requested from Twickenham about the whole situation regarding front-row injuries and replacements.

About three-quarters of Singapore's national rugby side will be quarantined for at least a week after returning from the annual Hong Kong Sevens.

The 21 players and officials from the men's and women's teams showed no signs of suffering from a deadly flu-like virus that has infected hundreds worldwide and killed 15 in Hong Kong.

The Singapore Rugby Union said the step had been taken as a precaution. 'It's just to be safe. There are no signs at all that they are sick,' a rugby union spokeswoman said.


Gloucester coach Nigel Melville will attempt to use all his guile to guide his team to their first major knock-out prize for 21 years, against a backdrop of financial uncertainty.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 2, 2003
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