Andrew Sheridan's long career at the sharp end of the scrum may be drawing to a close. The England loose-head prop, who played in the 2007 World Cup final and was a Test Lion in South Africa two years later, is suffering from a neck injury and has been told to rest for a month while doctors weigh up his chances of playing again. "Andrew is out, possibly forever," said Bernard Laporte, his coach at Toulon.
The quietly humorous 34-year-old forward, who was capped 40 times by England and is enduringly popular amongst those right-thinking red-rose supporters who saw him as a welcome antidote to the celebritisation of rugby at the top level, has enjoyed great success in the French club game since leaving Sale for the Côte d'Azur last year. Sadly, Laporte seemed less than convinced that the good times would continue.
"He has always had a problem between his neck and his shoulder," the coach said. "The surgeon has told him it's not necessary to have a new operation. He will now have a month of complete rest and if the pain does not go away, he will have to stop playing."
It is not just the red-rose types who are struggling for fitness. Scotland, who have precious little in the way of front-line talent, may have to work their way through the forthcoming Six Nations without Sean Lamont, their most experienced back.
Lamont mangled his ankle ligaments while on Pro 12 duty for Glasgow last Friday night and while no fracture has been detected, he is not expected to play again for "a few weeks". This leaves him in obvious risk of missing the opening tournament match against Ireland in Dublin in early February.
England, meanwhile, remain active on the recruitment front as they seek to piece together a state-of-the-art support staff for the national team. Scott Drawer, the deputy director of "performance solutions" at the English Institute of Sport whose recent work with the British Olympic Association bolstered his reputation as a leading figure in his field, is the latest addition to a back-room network boasting all mod cons: medical and fitness staff, analysts, legal counsel…you name it.
The one-time leader of UK Sport's research and innovation team is joining the Twickenham throng as "athletic performance manager" and will work closely with Matt Parker, recruited from the cycling fraternity this time last year.
While Drawer will concentrate largely on the England representative teams below Test level, he will be responsible for building and maintaining positive relationships with the top-flight Premiership teams so that "development of the players is optimised for both club and country", as Parker put it.
It is difficult to think of an individual more optimal than the New Zealand No 8 Kieran Read, and the All Black back-rower from Papakura received his just deserts when he was named the International Rugby Board's Player of the Year, beating four other candidates, including the Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, to the gong.