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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 17:28 GMT
England's fly-half options
By James Standley

Jonny Wilkinson trudges off the field after being injured playing for Newcastle
Wilkinson's injury means he misses the start of the Six Nations

England coach Sir Clive Woodward faces a big dilemma over who to pick at fly-half for England's opening Six Nations game against Italy on 15 February.

First-choice fly-half Jonny Wilkinson will miss the entire campaign after shoulder surgery, and his likely understudy, Charlie Hodgson, is also injured.

There are three men leading the race to try and fill Wilkinson's boots: exciting young pretender Olly Barkley; the gifted but inconsistent Alex King; and the dependable veteran Paul Grayson.

Here BBC Sport analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the trio charged with the unenviable task of replacing the best fly-half in the world.


ALEX KING

Of the three contenders, King is definitely the unluckiest, and not just because the rapid rise of Wilkinson has left him with only five caps at the age of 29.

KING'S DETAILS
Wasps fly-half Alex King
Club: London Wasps
Date of birth: 17/1/75
Height: 6 ft (1.82m)
Weight: 14 st (89.09kg)
England caps: 5
England points: 23

He was on his way to the World Cup last year until a knee operation left him out of action for nine weeks and Mike Catt on his way to Australia instead.

King has been in fine form for Wasps this season and will be looking to get one over on one of his rivals when the champions meet Barkley's Bath on Saturday.

But doubts remain about both King's kicking and his temperament on the highest stage, and he may once again be disappointed.


OLLY BARKLEY

Barkley is the youngest of the trio at 22 but he is an increasingly accomplished performer for Zurich Premiership leaders Bath and is the leading points scorer in the competition this season.

BARKLEY'S DETAILS
Bath fly-half Ollly Barkley
Club: Bath Rugby
Date of birth: 28/11/81
Height: 5 ft 10 in (1.77m)
Weight: 13 st 3 lb (83.64kg)
England caps: 1
England points: 0

Barkley has already played for England, making his debut for the national side before he had even played for Bath.

He is perhaps the best all-round footballer of the three, with an increasingly solid kicking game, good distribution skills, solid defence and surprising power with the ball in hand.

Woodward will not be worried by his youth, but the coach seems determined to change his team as little as possible and Barkley may have to settle for a place on the bench.


PAUL GRAYSON

The Northampton Saints fly-half appears to be the favourite to replace Wilkinson and if he gets the nod he is unlikely to let England down.

GRAYSON'S DETAILS
Northampton fly-half Paul Grayson
Club: Northampton Saints
Date of Birth: 30/5/71
Height: 5 ft 11 in (1.80m)
Weight: 14 st (89.09kg)
England caps: 35
England points: 357

Grayson is a reliable kicker - he is the second-highest points scorer of all time in the Zurich Premiership behind former Leicester star Tim Stimpson - and he has improved his all-round game immeasurably since first coming on the scene.

A couple of years ago the 32-year-old's international career looked over but he battled his way back to understudy Wilkinson at the World Cup.

He was the man in possession when England played the New Zealand Barbarians in December but has only played a few games since and kicked poorly when Northampton crashed out of the Heineken Cup to Llanelli on Sunday.




SEE ALSO
Wilkinson to miss opener
04 Feb 04  |  Six Nations
Wilkinson hopeful on Six Nations
01 Feb 04  |  Six Nations
Hodgson faces surgery
20 Jan 04  |  Six Nations
England's casualty list
28 Jan 04  |  Six Nations


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