Conor O'Shea and his fellow members of the Harlequins hierarchy were not exactly in party mood when they lost the prop James Johnston to Saracens at the end of last season: they knew instantly that, without the supersized Samoan's scrummaging strength, their chances of regaining the Premiership title over the next eight months would be less than brilliant.
However, things looked up for the Londoners today when another key individual, albeit one who spends his time as far away as possible from the grunt-and-groan fraternity, recommitted himself to the club. Mike Brown, the current England full-back, applied his thumbprint to a deal that will keep him at The Stoop until 2016, by which time the next World Cup, to be played on home soil, will have come and gone.
Brown may or may not be a red-rose regular when the global gathering unfolds in the autumn of 2015: two rivals in the England elite squad, Ben Foden of Northampton and Alex Goode of Saracens, have their eyes on his shirt, as does the resurgent Mathew Tait of Leicester, who may well turn out to be the pick of the crop. This much is certain, though: no Harlequin, not even the national captain Chris Robshaw, who has also signed up for another tour of duty in the south-western reaches of the capital, will give more of himself for the pastel-shaded cause.
"If there is a person who embodies what it means to compete for this club, it is Mike," remarked O'Shea, the director of rugby. "No matter what he achieves, he becomes hungrier and hungrier for more. That is what you want from your players."
Meanwhile, a freshly minted Worcester under the guidance of Dean Ryan named the 30-year-old Welsh back-rower Jonathan Thomas as their captain for the new campaign, which begins with the ultra-challenging visit to Leicester, the champions, a week on Sunday. Thomas, capped 67 times by his country and a member of two Six Nations Grand Slam-winning squads, joined the Midlanders from Ospreys a few weeks ago.
Another of Worcester's close-season signings, the highly regarded Argentinia back-rower Leonardo Senatore, was due to attend a disciplinary hearing tonight after being accused of biting the South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth during last weekend's Rugby Championship Test in Mendoza. If Senatore is found guilty, he will be lucky to play a Premiership game before December.
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