Bath given boost as Flatman 'on the mend'

David Flatman, the Bath and England prop, believes he could be back playing in early October after a successful operation on his Achilles tendon.

Flatman, 24, had his operation last Thursday and while cautious about pinpointing a return, expects to be back in a Bath shirt not long after the Premiership season kicks off on 4 September. He said: "The operation went well. The ankle is still a little sore at the moment and there is quite a lot of bruising, but it is good to know that I am now on the mend.

"I am not going to target any sort of return to action yet. We are probably looking at around 12 weeks at the moment which will rule me out of the first few Zurich Premiership matches. However, you never know, it could be sooner as [Bath's head of physical preparation] Chris Mallac and his medical team are extremely good at what they do - we will have to wait and see."

Another player on the comeback trail is Leicester's fly-half Sam Vesty, who plans a return to the Tigers first team after injury wrecked his 2003-04 campaign.

The 22-year-old underwent groin surgery at the beginning of the year before a "stinger" - a nerve pain that shoots down the neck - finally ended his season. But with a return to full fitness not far off, Vesty is looking for a return to the form which won him the supporters' and players' awards for Young Player of the Season in 2002-03.

He said: "I'm hoping to be involved in at least one of the pre-season games.I certainly feel like I could play and I've taken part in pre-season training, but the truth is I can't take that final step and take contact just yet as the injury could flare up again.

"It goes without saying that I want to be in the 22. I know I haven't played in a while, but if I get a spot on the bench hopefully I can force my way back into the starting line-up."

Sale Sharks will be without Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe for the first four months of the season. The Argentinian second rower injured his knee playing for the Pumas against the All Blacks last month and will join the club after Christmas.

Director of rugby Philippe Saint-André said: "It is a blow for us as we are trying to build a side capable of beating the best in the league, but it is one we will overcome - I will find a replacement before the start of the season."

Meanwhile, Ireland and Scotland have secured their places at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong next year after coming through the qualifying finals in Mallorca. England had already guaranteed their place at the tournament and they were joined by the Irish and Scots as well as event-winners Portugal plus Italy, France, Georgia and Russia. Scotland lost in the semi-finals to Portugal while Ireland were beaten by Italy.

The Scots suffered a surprise 24-14 defeat to Georgia in the group stage but they bounced back to beat France 35-0 in the last eight. Coach Rob Moffat said: "I don't know what happens but the French bring the best out of us. We won our last five matches against them and we knew how to handle them."

Ireland coach Ryan Constable was also pleased with his team's performance. He said: "This will enable the Irish Union to create a programme for the Ireland sevens team, to enable us to compete with the best in Hong Kong next year."

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