Leinster and Ulster players dominate awards shortlist
LEINSTER and Ulster players make up four of the five nominees for the European Player of the Year, with Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson the only player not based in Ireland to be nominated.
Stephen Ferris and Ruan Pienaar represent the northern province and are up against Rob Kearney and Jonny Sexton for the gong claimed by Sean O'Brien last season.
DESPITE the large amount of recent retirements due to injury, rugby's governing body yesterday claimed that injuries are in decline in the sport.
The Irish game has lost David Wallace, Jerry Flannery and Shane Horgan to retirement in recent months while other high-profile players like Lewis Moody and Tom Rees have also been forced to step aside prematurely. But the IRB believe injuries are now back to the pre-professionalism levels.
"It is a misconception that injury rates are increasing in the sport," Dr Martin Raftery said. "It is true that players are becoming bigger, stronger and faster and that there are more contact or collision incidents in the average match, but all the data suggests that injury rates have not increased since 2002."
WALES received a significant boost ahead of their tour to Australia after James Hook and Mike Phillips were released by their French clubs for the clash with the Barbarians.
Rob Howley will be without Lee Byrne, whose Clermont side are expected to be involved in the Top 14 finals, but he can call upon the experienced duo after Perpignan and Bayonne green-lighted their release.
Meanwhile, England have called up Dylan Hartley for their match with the invitational side as he returns from his suspension for an incident involving Stephen Ferris during the Six Nations game against Ireland.