Somerville's eye may cause lengthy lay-off

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The Independent Online

A hundred or so minutes into his career as one of Gloucester's big-money foreign captures, the All Black prop Greg Somerville may be facing a substantial spell of watching his new club rather than playing for them.

The tight-head specialist from New Zealand suffered an eye injury during the heavy Premiership defeat at London Irish on Saturday and will discover over the next 24 hours whether he will be fit for any of the three important league matches scheduled this side of the Heineken Cup resumption in mid-January. Gloucester are unusually well blessed in the front-row department, with three international hookers operating alongside a veritable battalion of props. But with the Italian scrummager Carlos Nieto already struggling for fitness, the West Countrymen would prefer not to lose Somerville into the bargain – especially as they face the considerable physical challenge of a derby match at Bristol this weekend.

Not that Bristol are without problems of their own. Their captain, the flanker Joe El Abd, fears he may be out of action for three months after damaging the biceps in his left arm during a recent European Challenge Cup match with Northampton. As specialist open-side operators are an endangered species at the Memorial Ground these days, the club may attempt to sign a breakaway if, as seems possible, new money is made available to them over the next fortnight.

Harlequins, not noticeably short of cash, yesterday confirmed that their self-styled "Big Game" against Leicester at Twickenham this weekend is a 50,000 sell-out. The Londoners took the decision to move the game away from their home at the Stoop and play it at the much bigger stadium on the opposite side of the A316, even though venue hiring charges ensured the increased profit would be minimal.

However, their chief executive, Mark Evans, was keen to make "a statement of intent" and his gamble has paid off. But for licensing restrictions, Quins could have sold up to 10,000 more tickets. Meanwhile, Saracens expect a capacity crowd of some 17,000 for their meeting with London Irish, the Premiership leaders, on Saturday. Should the visitors spot the familiar face of their former director of rugby, Brendan Venter, in the vicinity of Watford, it will be for the very good reason that Saracens have started using the World Cup-winning Springbok centre's coaching expertise on an occasional basis.

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