Neck injury likely to end Honiball's career

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The Independent Online

Henry Honiball is not the sort to take a backward step, as a generation of orthopaedically damaged opponents will testify. Sadly, the most destructive tackler ever to make the grade as an international outside-half may well have put in one big hit too many. The 34-year-old Springbok from Natal is suffering from a chronic neck condition and will decide over the next week whether to follow strong medical advice and bring his brief career in English club rugby to a premature conclusion.

Henry Honiball is not the sort to take a backward step, as a generation of orthopaedically damaged opponents will testify. Sadly, the most destructive tackler ever to make the grade as an international outside-half may well have put in one big hit too many. The 34-year-old Springbok from Natal is suffering from a chronic neck condition and will decide over the next week whether to follow strong medical advice and bring his brief career in English club rugby to a premature conclusion.

Bristol, whom he joined after last year's World Cup, are bracing themselves for the worst. "Henry put in a couple of heavy tackles early in our final home game with Leicester in May and was a virtual passenger for the rest of the afternoon," said one Memorial Ground source yesterday. "It's a bad injury, affecting one of the vertebrae in his neck. It's too low down for him to have the kind of operation that saved Jason Leonard's career and the prognosis is pretty negative. One more bad knock could have very serious consequences, so it's a decision for Henry and his family."

Honiball hinted at the gravity of the situation earlier this week. While insisting that there was no reason why he should not fulfil his contractual obligations and play a part in Bristol's quest for a Heineken Cup place in 2001-02, he said: "There is a possibility that another knock could put me out of action. Let's just say there are developments and we are talking about the situation. Nothing is official but I should know where I stand by the end of the month."

If medical opinion is as strong as Bristol sources suggest it is - and it comes, at least in part, from Jon Webb, the former England full-back, who works as a surgeon in the city - there seems little likelihood of Honiball playing again. In his absence, the West Countrymen would promote another southern hemisphere stand-off, the Australian Steven Vile - a move that would improve their goal-kicking, if not their front-line defence.

Still on the outside-half front, the increasingly polyglot North London tribe known as Saracens yesterday unveiled their third foreign playmaker in as many seasons. Duncan McRae, a 25-year-old Super 12 exponent with the New South Wales Waratahs, is flying in from Sydney to replace Thierry Lacroix, who retired from full-time professional rugby at the end of last season. A former Australian schools cap, not to mention a rugby league player with both the London Broncos and the Canterbury Bulldogs, McRae was recommended by Timothy James Horan, no less. Given that Horan, perhaps the finest of all Wallaby centres, will be playing directly outside McRae at Vicarage Road next season, he will have only himself to blame if the Sarries midfield fails to fire.

"We've been looking for a replacement for Thierry for some time, and Duncan was on our list," said the Saracens coach, Alan Zondagh, yesterday. "I spoke to Tiaan Strauss (the former Springbok and Wallaby No 8) about him as they were team-mates at New South Wales last season, and he suggested he would be just what we were looking for. When Tim came over last month, we talked at great length about our requirements for the position. He agreed that Duncan was the man for the job and that he would be more than happy to play alongside him."

Meanwhile, Gloucester expect to hear within 24 hours whether they have lured Stefan Terblanche, the high-quality Springbok wing, away from South Africa.

Terblanche, like Honiball, is a Natal Sharks product, but he was less than amused at being omitted from the Bok squad for this summer's internationals - his supporters blamed the quota system aimed at promoting non-white players - and openly suggested in May that he would consider playing abroad.

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