Rugby Union: Coaches count cost of April ailments

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S nouveau riche Premiership clubs may beg to differ, but rugby remains one of the few remaining bastions of dyed-in-the-wool traditionalism. Since time immemorial, April has been the cruellest month for the poor bloody infantry in shirts, shorts and socks and for all the diet sheets, player-specific physio sessions and tender loving care lavished on the pampered professional, the song remains the same. From now until the end of the season, the talk will be of exhaustion, burn-out and ever-lengthening injury lists.

Hence Newcastle's decision to delay naming their side for today's hugely significant set-to with Gloucester at Kingsholm. The title favourites, beaten only once in 15 Premiership outings, are not playing mind games or indulging a passion for sporting smart-arsery. Far from it. The fact of the matter is that two of their most influential players, Va'aiga Tuigamala and Ross Nesdale, will not decide until this morning whether they can possibly drag themselves away from the treatment table.

Newcastle are desperate to welcome back both and Tuigamala, the former All Black threequarter, and Nesdale, the Irish Test hooker, will test their respective knee and ankle conditions shortly before kick-off.

"I seriously hope Va'aiga makes it because we lacked his punch in the centre during our midweek match with Wasps," said Steve Bates, the Falcons' coach. "Every single game from here on in has the word `tough' stamped all over it and we have to get the guys up physically and mentally if we're going to pull through."

Gloucester have similar problems of their own, with knobs on. Richard Hill, their coach, is so unhappy with his side's conditioning that he has dismissed Paul Balston, his fitness specialist. "I can't fault him in terms of effort and he has contributed a lot of excellent ideas, but we've gone backwards in some areas, primarily stamina," said Hill. "I was very disappointed with some recent test results and it's made me realise how good this team could be if the players were fitter."

Just to rub it in, Gloucester go into today's sell-out without Phil Vickery, their England tight-head prop, and Pete Glanville, their flanker and captain. Vickery is still suffering from the shoulder injury he aggravated during the victory over Saracens, while Glanville damaged a shoulder joint during training on Thursday. Andy Deacon comes into the front row, Steve Ojomoh joins the back row, while the prop Tony Windo takes on the captaincy.

l Caledonia Reds coach Ian Rankin and his Glasgow counterpart, Keith Robertson, have been appointed head coaches of the two Scottish "super districts" who will compete in the Heineken European Cup next season. Rankin will lead the Edinburgh/Scottish Borders district side and Robertson will head the Glasgow/Caledonia team.