Gloucester vs Leicester Tigers: No end in sight for Tigers' injury woes but 13 absent internationals is a greater concern for rugby as a whole

The rate of attrition at Welford Road is reflected by a third of the England squad currently ruled out through injury

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The Independent Online

Gloucester gave a tempered reaction to Saturday’s 33-16 win over Leicester Tigers, because the Kingsholm club knew they were putting their foot on the throat of a wounded animal. All the years when Leicester’s bench were better than most clubs’ first choices have flipped round to the current tale of woe, with injuries undermining the early-season challenge of the 10-times league champions.

Gloucester, along with Bath, were many pundits’ tips as the coming teams of the new season, and the Cherry-and-Whites certainly relished their three galloping tries by Nick Wood, Charlie Sharples and Jonny May for a whopping half-time lead of 30-9. Then they turned to play into the wind, Leicester got to grips with the ferocity of the home flanker Matt Kvesic at the breakdown, and a late converted try by David Mele prevented a rout of the scale Tigers had suffered in losing 45-0 at Bath two weeks previously. Still it was as dispiriting a return to old haunts as could be imagined for Leicester’s England fly-half, Freddie Burns, who was charged down for Wood’s try.

“We are disappointed we did not get a bonus point, but we would have taken the result beforehand,” said Greig Laidlaw, the Scotland half-back who kicked 18 points for Gloucester as part of a fruitful partnership with James Hook. “It was always going to take time to bed in so many new players and now we’ll prepare for a huge battle away to Saracens [this Saturday]. They had a tough game against Bath last Friday and I hope they all feel bashed up.”

Leicester have taken being bashed up to the nth degree. The welcome page on their website features five faces by way of introduction to the club who contested every Premiership final in the nine seasons from 2005 to 2013. Ed Slater, Dan Cole, Manu Tuilagi, Geoff Parling and Anthony Allen: fine players all. And all currently injured.

 

They are among a dizzying number of crocks; 13 internationals at the last count, but it would need a phone call the minute you are reading this to be certain. Tuilagi, it is hoped, will be fit from a groin problem to return against Harlequins at Welford Road this Friday. The Argentina prop Marcos Ayerza should be back from Rugby Championship duty, although Richard Cockerill, Leicester’s director of rugby, joked that the Puma might have to play at inside centre. “Quins has become a big game for us,” said Cockerill, who railed at a suggestion he had heard in recent days that some of Tigers’ wounds have been self inflicted. He said the idea of Leicester training sessions being a full-on fight had gone out in the last century. This is at odds with players of much more recent vintage saying it was still going on.

Where Cockerill is correct is that the truth is more complex. Almost a third of the England squad are out at the moment, but determining the exact provenance of a rash of rugby injuries is like nailing jelly to a wall. Train too hard, or come back to playing too soon, and you may fall over in a match. Play too many matches and you might give way in training. The game, per se, is tough on the body’s joints and soft tissue. The laws allow brutish clear-outs and collisions that by their nature inflict lasting damage.

Tigers have now signed the Wales lock Lou Reed on loan from Cardiff Blues; at Gloucester, they gave a debut to Brad Thorn, the eminent former All Black lock who at the age of 39 has a unique trophy cabinet from his years in league and union. It must be like JK Rowling sharing notes with the village-hall book club. He offered himself up constantly for possession, but a second-half knock-on when he took his eyes off the ball summed up Leicester’s day. “Just look at all the front rowers and locks who are out - it is crazy,” Thorn said. “I have been with the group for a month and have added my voice at times. I am hungry to make a contribution and if you show the right action, your words have meaning.”

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