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Rugby Union: Casey looking for fair break.

Byline: By Brian Dick Rugby Correspondent

If Pertemps Bees beat Exeter at Sandy Park this afternoon, Casey Dunning will have more reason to be happy than most.

Victory in the EDF Energy National Trophy semi-final would not only earn the Canada international his first trip to Twickenham, it would also be the perfect silver lining to a campaign that has contained more clouds than an unusually damp day in Manchester.

It was playing against Mancunian outfit Sedgley Park in December that the 26-year-old's dreams of making it to HQ looked to have suffered a terminal setback when, in the last few minutes of a game Bees had long lost, he fractured his ankle in two places.

That gave rise to medical advice that he would not and should not play again this season. But having undergone surgery and extensive rehabilitation, the Calgary-born prop has returned to action.

He made his comeback at the end of the victory over London Welsh and has been named among the replacements this afternoon when his side take on one of the form packs in National One.

That he has even got as close as a bench is made all the more remarkable by the fact the ankle break wasn't his first problem of the year, nor indeed his second. Dun-ning's lower legs sustained three serious injuries in the last six months of 2006.

He fractured his foot when playing in Canada and was forced to miss his country's summer series; after coming on as a substitute against Moseley in September, he dislocated his right ankle within minutes of arriving on the pitch. The match with Sedgley Park was just his second since recovering from that mishap.

"It has been a good season being involved with the team," Dunning says. "I have definitely learned a lot in my first season of English rugby - it's hard and tough in the forwards - but I have never had injuries like this in my life before - it's Sod's Law.

"I didn't know what happened against Sedgley because I went into shock but, when I saw the video, it was pretty bad. I said a few expletives. I heard it snap and felt it. I thought that was it for me and the season and the World Cup, so I was pretty emotional about it.

"The surgeon said he wouldn't suggest playing again this season but I have been getting some really good physiotherapy and the upshot is that I am fresh. I feel really good now and I am probably stronger than I have ever been in my life, with all the upper-body work I've been doing."

As he suggested, the Law of Sod has not only stymied his career with Bees, it has also threatened his international ambitions.

With five caps, Dunning was a rising star in the Canada set-up but, having missed the Churchill Cup and the autumn internationals with Wales and Italy, his hopes for making the World Cup have been seriously jeopardised.

The Churchill Cup, in which the England Saxons play, is due to be held in this country in May and June, after which the Canadians travel to New Zealand to play the All Blacks and their Under-21 side.

Having rearranged his wedding so that he is available for international duty, Dunning is looking to use this afternoon's match and a Twickenham showpiece as a launchpad for September. But first, Bees have to upset the odds.

Until last Saturday, when they travelled to league leaders Leeds, Exeter had not been beaten since early-December, a run of 12 games. Dunning is not overawed. "Our prospects are pretty good," he says. "We had a good scrum against them up here and did really well to win and they didn't beat us by much down there. "And what a way to finish off this season. It's always been a dream of mine to play at Twickenham and other big rugby venues and to do it, after the problems I've had, would be great."

Things are already improving. Dunning became the first player to commit himself to the club for next season when he signed a new contract on Thursday.

Bees begin with the same front row that started in the victory over the Exiles last weekend but Matt Larsen will make his first start in a back row that also contains the fit-again Akapusi Qera. Skipper Mark Cornwell is out of the reckoning due to personal problems, so Alex Davidson and Mark Gabey continue in the engine room.

BEES: Nuthall; Spee, Billig, Knight, Palm; Higgins, Petty; Long, Miles, Court, Gabey, Davidson, Matthews, Qera, Larsen. Replacements: Tuohy, Lewis, Dunning, Hal-avatau, Davies/Rawlins, Martin, Baxter.

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Casey Dunning
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 24, 2007
Words:780
Previous Article:Cricket: Sri Lanka put India hopes in jeopardy.
Next Article:Rugby Union: Double dose of semi-final blues; Will it be third time lucky? Brian Dick looks back at Bees' last two bids for a place at Twickenham.


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