LEEDS CARNEGIE flanker Hendre Fourie continues to give England manager Martin Johnson a headache as the forward nurses a calf strain which could jeopardise his chances of making the Six Nations opener.
The ex-Rotherham openside will not return to training until next week with England already missing fellow No 7 and captain Lewis Moody ahead of Friday’s game with Wales in Cardiff.
Fourie’s club side tackle Gloucester tomorrow looking to record their first win in this season’s LV Cup.
The Yorkshiremen are struggling to qualify from Pool Two but will be more interested in building confidence ahead of their return to Premiership action agianst Leicester on February 13.
With Fourie and England hooker Steve Thompson away on international duty, youngsters Phil Nilsen and Jacob Rowan are drafted into the starting line-up for the game at Headingley Carnegie.
England Under-20 captain Rowan has spent time on loan at Doncaster this season, while Nilsen has been Thompson’s understudy for most of this season.
Academy hooker Scott Freer is set to make his first appearance in the first team this campaign after recovering from a serious knee injury.
Australian international Lachlan MacKay returns to the starting line-up at fly-half while Ceiron Thomas reverts to full-back with joint-leading try scorer Lee Blackett resuming on the wing and Henry Fa’afili looking to continue his good recent form in the centres alongside Scott Barrow.
Gloucester centre Mike Tindall, meanwhile, was sent home from England’s pre-tournament training camp in Portugal for an MRI scan after taking a blow to the thigh.
The Otley-born World Cup winner was cleared of any serious damage though and is set to resume training with the squad when they return to Pennyhill Park next week.
Ben Foden last night insisted the time has come for England to make up for seven years of under-achievement by lifting the Six Nations title and the confident Northampton full-back admitted that anything less would be a failure.
England last won the championship in 2003, when Sir Clive Woodward’s side geared up for their World Cup triumph by storming to the Grand Slam.
In the intervening years, England have twice plumbed the depths of fourth place. In 2008 and 2009 they finished second but last year slipped back to third.
However, England are up to fourth in the world – the leading European nation – and Foden believes the next step will be mounting a Six Nations title challenge.
“The top two is a realistic target but as a squad we are aiming for the No 1 spot.
“Anything less would be a failure in our eyes,” he said.
“We are a confident squad, we feel like we are going in the right direction. We performed well in the autumn and we feel the next step for us is to challenge for the Six Nations.
“We want to right those wrongs from the last seven years, when we haven’t been that impressive in the competition in terms of winning it. We feel like we have got our best foot forward.”