'Raging Bull' pulls out

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LONDON, October 21- England are set to be without their entire first-choice front row for all of their November Tests at Twickenham after former captain Phil Vickery was ruled out on Monday with a neck injury.
PHIL_VICKERY_Vickery will miss the fixtures against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand after it was announced he would be sidelined for at least three months following forthcoming beck surgery.

That announcement came less than 24 hours after it was revealed fellow prop Andrew Sheridan would be out of action for at least four months with a dislocated shoulder, placing a question mark against his participation in this season’s Six Nations, where England begin their campaign against Wales on February 6.

With hooker Lee Mears already ruled out because of knee ligament damage, England manager Martin Johnson must contemplate a complete revamp of what was an all British and Irish Lions front row.

Vickery’s injury is just the latest setback to Johnson’s plans.

England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain now knows he will definitely be without 12 players next month because of injury, with full-back Delon Armitage, centre Riki Flutey and flanker Tom Rees among the casualty list.

Vickery sustained his injury during Wasps’s 18-13 European Challenge Cup victory over Paris-based Racing Metro on October 11.

In a statement, Wasps said: "Due to an exacerbation of neck pain suffered during the game, Phil Vickery has been closely monitored over the last week by the club’s medical team.

"Subsequently a collective decision by Phil, the consultant, Wasps’ medical team and England has been made this week to progress with surgery to his neck.

"This will entail a rehab period in excess of three months."

England’s front-row problems come just at the time when New Zealand, beaten three times by world champions South Africa during the Tri-Nations, have shaken up their backroom staff in a bid to reinvigorate their form.

Head coach Graham Henry, backs coach Wayne Smith and forwards coach Steve Hansen, have swapped roles, with Smith taking charge of defence, Hansen working on attack and Henry taking responsibility for the forwards.

But England’s chances of capitalising on any All Black uncertainty threaten to be undermined by a rash of injuries which has left Johnson with just three fit props – Tim Payne, Julian White and David Wilson – in his current squad.

Vickery, England’s World Cup captain in France two years ago, made a successful recovery from neck and back injuries earlier in his career.

But the 33-year-old, who has won 73 England caps and made five appearances for the Lions, faces another gruelling quest to regain full fitness.

Johnson is due to reveal how he will plug the gaps on Monday, when he is scheduled to announce a revised elite squad.

England face Australia at Twickenham on November 7, before facing Argentina a week later and then New Zealand.

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