Gloucester, busily preparing for this weekend's EDF Energy Cup final with Cardiff Blues at Twickenham and still chasing a Premiership play-off place, have deep concerns over their outstanding blind-side flanker Alasdair Strokosch (right). The 26-year-old Scot, very much in the frame for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa after a strong showing in the Six Nations Championship, is undergoing a range of tests, including a neurological examination, after suffering a series of "stinger" injuries.
Such injuries generally affect the nerves travelling from the spinal cord to the arm and can vary in severity: Jonny Wilkinson, who has suffered more than most from "stingers", needed career-saving surgery on discs in his neck-shoulder region five years ago. There is no suggestion that Strokosch is in the same parlous state – according to Dean Ryan, the head coach at Gloucester, early tests have given him a clean bill of health on the disc front – but it may well be that he will not play again until next season.
Renowned for his uncompromisingly approach – even by the punishing standards of modern-day rugby, he is a heavy tackler – Strokosch would have been a valuable member of the Lions tour party. Ryan did not rule him out of contention completely yesterday, but as the Lions selectors name their party on Tuesday and are on record as saying that no player will be considered who cannot guarantee his fitness by departure day in late May, his chances are slim indeed.
Not that Strokosch is Gloucester's only injury concern. They have just about given up on Mike Tindall, the England centre, in respect of this weekend's final, and it is unlikely that Iain Balshaw will be fit to participate. Both were injured during the semi-final victory over Ospreys last month. However, two more internationals, the wing James Simpson-Daniel and the loose forward Luke Narraway, are back in training and available.
Ryan has some delicate choices to make, owing to the demands of his team's Premiership run-in. Gloucester must play Worcester at Kingsholm on Tuesday night, then travel to Wasps for the last of their regular-season matches four days later. "If I had a full squad of 35 fit players available to me, I'd pick the best XV for the final," he said. "But under the circumstances, I'm not in a position to take risks with people. There is too much important rugby left to be played to gamble on anyone's fitness this weekend."
Once again, Ryan refused to be drawn on the prospect of Olly Barkley leaving the club and returning to Bath next season, although it has been an open secret for some time. Gloucester did, however, confirm that their Italian tight-head prop Carlos Nieto was on his way to Saracens, where he will link up with two other members of the Azzurri front row, Matias Aguero and Fabio Ongaro.
It was a hectic day on the transfer front, with Northampton landing themselves a top-notch recruit in Phil Dowson, the Newcastle captain. The 27-year-old flanker and one-time England Saxons captain conceded: "After so many years at Kingston Park, it will be a wrench to leave. But I need to get out of my comfort zone and develop as a player."
Meanwhile, the prospects of Bath remaining at their Recreation Ground venue next season increased yesterday when councillors agreed to offer up a site on one of the hills overlooking the city in a land-swap deal. If the Charity Commission, which controls the Rec, accepts this proposal, the club may secure a long-term lease on the most fought-over stretch of sporting land in Britain and set about constructing a stadium that will guarantee the future of city-centre rugby.Reuse content