Rugby Union: Preston revealed as flesh and blood

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The Independent Online
YOU BEGIN to suspect that it might not be your year when an apparently uninjurable player contrives to prang himself inside the first half hour of an eagerly anticipated Premiership debut. Jon Preston, the former All Black half-back who stands alongside the great Sean Fitzpatrick as the most resilient New Zealand Test player of the decade, will struggle to make Bath's important home match with Northampton on 12 December after damaging his Achilles tendon at the weekend.

Preston was stretchered off after 26 minutes of Saturday's match at The Stoop, where Harlequins increased the pressure on the fading West Country club by winning 43-31. Asked how serious the problem might be, Bath's most recent big-name import replied: "I don't know. I don't really recall what it means to be injured."

He was not exaggerating: Preston last suffered an injury worthy of the name, a dislocated shoulder, during an All Black tour match in Australia in 1992 and during the latter stages of his New Zealand career was considered the fittest man in a very fit national squad. The Bath medical team originally feared he had ruptured his Achilles in this latest incident, but specialists yesterday downgraded the diagnosis and settled for a compressed tendon.

A three-week break from Premiership activity at least gives the European champions the chance to work on their wounded. They may even reintroduce Dan Lyle, their extravagantly athletic No 8, to league rugby against Northampton if the United States captain successfully negotiates a second-string fixture at Saracens a fortnight today. Lyle has been missing since last March because of knee ligament trouble.

Talking of which, Glenn Metcalfe returns to the Glasgow Caledonians side who face the touring Fijians at Firhill tonight after a month of treatment on his dodgy knee. The Scottish selectors, generally encouraged by the national team's efforts against South Africa at the weekend, will be watching with interest, especially as the New Zealand-born full-back made such a sound impression during the summer tour of Australia.

The Grand Slam-chasing Springboks have no apparent fitness problems, apart from an understandable degree of fatigue at the end of a hard nine- month stretch of competitive rugby. Andre Venter, once an automatic choice in the Boks' back row but now looking to reinvent himself as a new-age lock, features in the midweek side's intriguing tussle with Irish Provinces in Cork today, as does Franco Smith, the centre dropped after the close shave with Wales 10 days ago.

Andre Vos, the uncapped No 8 from Transvaal, leads the side in the absence of Bobby Skinstad, whose try-scoring exploits on his full Test debut at Murrayfield on Saturday almost certainly cemented his place among the elite. Most eyes, though, will be focused on another loose forward, Corne Krige. The Western Province flanker is pressing hard for inclusion at the top level after a scintillating Currie Cup campaign back home.