Lewis Moody has not, to put it mildly, enjoyed the best few weeks of his sporting life: fined for wearing the wrong mouthguard during a World Cup tournament in which he led England from one calamity to another and then criticised by fellow players in one of the confidential post-tournament reports that found their way into the public arena in less time than it takes the Rugby Football Union to rid itself of a chief executive, he must now resign himself to three months of purgatory on the injury front. The Bath flanker underwent surgery on his damaged shoulder earlier this week and will not be fit again until the spring.
The enforced lay-off – the latest of many interruptions to the career of a gung-ho forward who has never shown much in the way of an instinct for self-preservation – should at least give him a chance to maximise sales of his recently published autobiography, although knowing his luck, it has probably been remaindered already. Having retired from Test rugby last month, the former national captain badly wanted to put his World Cup frustrations and embarrassments behind him by helping the West Country club recover from a limp start to their Premiership and Heineken Cup campaigns. Instead, he is unlikely to reappear at first-team level much before April.
"He had the operation on Monday, having suffered the injury at Worcester a couple of Fridays ago," reported Brad Davis, one of Sir Ian McGeechan's assistants on the Bath coaching staff. "The surgeons are saying he'll be out for 12 weeks and Lewis says it will be 10 weeks. I'm splitting the difference and going with 11 weeks, but it's a long time whichever way you look at it. It's disappointing for him and disappointing for us. We're really struggling with injuries at the moment and while Francois Louw [the highly regarded South African who missed last weekend's painful home defeat by Sale because he was attending the wedding of his fellow Springbok flanker Schalk Burger] will be back with us this weekend, it's a real battle."
It will be a battle of the uphill variety on Sunday, that's for sure. Bath, the first English club to win a European title, take on the reigning Heineken Cup champions Leinster at the Recreation Ground knowing that defeat will just about cook their goose for another year. They expect to have their World Cup-winning All Black outside-half Stephen Donald available – "His hip injury has cleared up pretty well and if he gets through the week's training, he'll play," Davis said – but they are alarmingly short of hookers and seem certain to lose their captain, the lock Stuart Hooper, into the bargain. No details were divulged of the lock's condition yesterday, but the plaster cast on his right arm was something of a giveaway.
Bath are now in the lower reaches of the Premiership table, having lost six of their last nine games, and their wholly unnecessary defeat at Glasgow on the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup pool stage – a bone-headed episode if ever there was one – has left them in urgent need of victory over Joe Schmidt's crack outfit from Dublin, who are on a winning streak of major proportions. "We believe we have what it takes to beat Leinster but it means us performing at the top of our game," Davis admitted. "This is the elite competition and we're playing against the holders. If you put something substandard on the field against opponents as good as them, you don't expect to take anything from the match."
There has been a good deal of discontent among Bath supporters in recent weeks and given that infinite patience is not widely considered to be among Bruce Craig's more obvious qualities – the millionaire owner has big plans for the club he bought some 18 months ago and is very clear on the timescale for success – McGeechan, for all his glittering prizes as a coach, would be less than human if he did not feel just a little uncomfortable right now. Quite whether yesterday's comments from Nick Blofeld, the chief executive, eased his anxiety was a moot point.
"Fundamentally, we know we're a better team than our recent performances suggest," Blofeld said. "We're trying to get to the bottom of it. What tweaks do we need to make? What adjustments? That's what we're concentrating on at the moment. This has been a more difficult season than we imagined it would be for a variety of reasons, but you can't just flick a switch and make everything right. Yes, we have goals and targets, but they're not specific in terms of winning this competition in this particular year. It's about achieving success within a certain number of years."
Pain game: Moody's many injuries
23 Feb 2002 Broken nose against Northampton.
23 Nov 2002 Injured his shoulder in 53-3 win against South Africa in autumn Internationals.
Dec 2003 Out for more than six months with a stress fracture of the foot sustained while playing for Leicester. The injury was thought to be career-threatening at one point as he struggled to recover and it forced him to miss the summer tour of New Zealand.
Jun 2005 Injured his knee in training with the Lions but only missed one Test.
Jan 2007 Shoulder surgery forced him to miss the entire Six Nations but he returned in time for the 2007 World Cup.
Feb 2008 An Achilles injury while on England duty forced him to miss nearly 10 months, including the Six Nations and end-of-season tour to New Zealand.
Jan 2009 Broke his ankle training with Leicester and missed the rest of the domestic season.
Oct 2010 Ruled out for a month with a damaged retina sustained playing against Gloucester in the Premiership.
Jan 2011 Injured knee ligaments playing for Bath against Aironi in the Heineken Cup.
Aug 2011 Injured knee ligaments in 23-19 World Cup warm-up victory over Wales
Nov 2011 Injured shoulder in Bath's 16-7 defeat to Worcester.