Premiership rugby may be many things, but it is not the most sympathetic means of preparing for a major contest at the business end of the Heineken Cup pool stage, which kicks in this weekend with 18 teams chasing quarter-final places. Two of England's former European champions, Leicester and Bath, are up a gum tree on the injury front as they contemplate their respective must-win home fixtures against Biarritz and Leinster - the Tigers in the back-row department, the West Countrymen in the hooking arena. As things stand, both sides are down to the bare minimum.
The dislocated elbow suffered by Martin Corry, the England No 8, at Gloucester on Sunday night could have all sorts of ramifications, for Leicester as well as for the player himself, who is expected to be incapacitated for at least six weeks and is most unlikely to make the Six Nations Championship game with France at Twickenham on 13 February, let alone the one with Wales in Cardiff eight days earlier. His absence leaves the Midlanders with only three fit loose forwards: Lewis Moody, Neil Back and Will Johnson.
With Henry Tuilagi, Will Skinner and Brett Deacon spending their time limping between the gym and the physiotherapist's room, the latter's brother Louis, a lock forward of high quality but no one's idea of a wide-ranging breakaway, may well find himself covering five positions from the bench when Biarritz pitch up at Welford Road on Sunday. As the Frenchmen are lavishly equipped in the back row - they have an all-international combination of Imanol Harinordoquy, Thomas Lievremont and Serge Betsen in their first-choice unit with Christophe Milheres, another Tricolore cap, floating around in reserve - Leicester's predicament is serious indeed.
Andy Robinson is not laughing either. Corry's injury - "one of those nasty ones, the kind you wouldn't wish on anybody," according to John Wells, the head man at Leicester - leaves the national coach with plenty on his plate as he prepares for the awkward trip to the Millennium Stadium. He may well shift Joe Worsley of Wasps from the blind-side flank to the middle of the back row, run Moody at No 6 and promote Andy Hazell of Gloucester to the open-side berth, especially as Hazell played with considerable vigour in defeat at Kingsholm on Sunday. Should Robinson favour a more substantial specimen, Pat Sanderson of Worcester may fit the bill.
Bath have just the one hooker available to them in the build-up to their meeting with the free-scoring Dubliners of Leinster on Saturday. Dave Ward, an 18-year-old academy product who impressed during his club's otherwise dismal 13-6 defeat by Saracens at the Recreation Ground three days ago, will make his first senior start if both Jonathan Humphreys and Lee Mears fail to make sharp improvements over the next 72 hours. In such an event, the England tight-head prop Matt Stevens will probably be asked to provide cover for all three front-row positions.
Humphreys, the club captain, is struggling with a heel injury, while Mears was fairly marmalised by the Saracens lock Simon Raiwalui in the opening minutes of the Premiership match.
He left the Rec in an ambulance and spent much of his Saturday evening in the local accident and emergency department, where he was diagnosed as suffering from concussion. The 24-year-old will not be permitted to play unless he convinces Bath's medical staff of his well-being.Reuse content