Clubs must shoulder blame over injury toll

Likes of Farrell may be cursed but others are rushed back too soon
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The Independent Online

When he left Wigan for Saracens in the spring of 2005, his friends in the north would have wished Andy Farrell the best of luck. He didn't get it. His move was plagued by injuries to toe and back, but this season was supposed to be different.

After "flogging myself for eight weeks in pre-season training", Farrell came on as a replacement in the 65th minute in a warm-up fixture against the Australian touring side Western Force; and went off five minutes later with a fractured and dislocated thumb. The 33-year-old rugby league great was replaced at inside-centre by his 16-year-old son, Owen.

Owen is 6ft 3in and a member of the club's academy – a Saracens dream is to get father and son playing in the Premiership at the same time. A few days ago, Andy, no longer a part of the England set-up and named by his club as co-captain alongside Steve Borthwick, had a cast removed from his hand, and should be back in a fortnight. After losing the opener to Harlequins, Saracens also lost their flanker David Seymour, out for eight weeks with a knee ligament injury.

It is the nature of the beast, and knees are notoriously fickle. The RFU, Premier Rugby and the players' association commissioned a survey a couple of seasons ago to address player welfare, and found there was an ave-rage of 92 injuries per team per season, 72 per cent of them, not surprisingly, caused in contact.

As Farrell discovered, there is no let-up, even in pre-season friendlies. Bristol might have thought they were on safe ground in a warm-up against Exeter but, two minutes into the match, Shaun Perry, the former England scrum-half, was picked up and dumped on his shoulder. He needed an operation and will be out for up to two months. The West Country club, struggling with limited resources and already one of the favourites for relegation, also lost their experienced prop Darren Crompton with an ankle injury. They can ill afford to lose anybody. To make matters worse, Junior Fatialofa started the opener against Bath but pulled up with a recurrence of a hamstring strain.

But should he have played at all? There is a great fear in the professional game, in which def-eat has become the dirtiest word, of players not being given enough time to recover fully. The temptation to get them back as quicklyas possible is almost irresistible.

At Bath, Ryan Davis, a highly rated young stand-off, missed most of last season with the dreaded cruciate ligament problem. He had an operation and returned to training, only to discover he needed another appointment with the surgeon. The club are not sure when he will be back.

The back-row forward Andy Beattie has also succumbed to cruciate ligament damage and may not reappear before Christmas. As for the former England lock Danny Grewcock, he started pre-season training only to discover that an old shoulder problem had resurfaced and he is in rehab for five weeks.

Don't talk to London Irish about crocked lock forwards. Their line-out used to be the best in the business, but Bob Casey broke his wrist in a pre-season friendly and James Hudson damaged an ankle in training. Shane Geraghty, their brilliant young stand-off, did a Hudson while Mike Catt, who is supposed to be more mentor than player, injured an ankle in the opener against Wasps.

Few clubs have escaped the carnage, although Sale appear to be doing better than most. Jason White, the mega-hitting back-rower from Scotland, has made a full recovery from shoulder and knee injuries.

Some players, like Farrell and Ryan Davies, seem to be cursed. Neil Starling is a centre at Northampton, although you wouldn't know it. He has suffered not one anterior cruciate ligament injury but two, not to mention a hamstring injury – his absence will be measured not in months but years.

Jon Clarke, the Saints back, was being seen as an England playeruntil he fractured an ankle against Newcastle in 2006-07 which put him out for seven months. He made a successful comeback, until damaging a hamstring against Newcastle last week. Northampton are also without the back-rower Mark Easter, the brother of Quins' England No 8 Nick, following a hip operation.

Quins have their own cross to bear, losing their star signing, the stand-off Nick Evans, for five weeks with a torn knee ligament, while the prop John Brooks is on crutches after mangling a foot.

Leicester, who have a bigger squad than most, found that their indestructible Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni needed oper-ations to his shoulder and groin. Flanker Lewis Moody also went under the knife to repair damage to an Achilles and hip, while Louis Deacon needed a back operation and new signing Derick Hougaard arrived from the Blue Bulls carrying a shoulder injury.

Player welfare? They're all aware of occupational hazards, but the most worrying thing of all is that we are only a few weeks into the new season.