Harlequins supporters – and there are increasing numbers of them, to judge by booming attendances at a Stoop Memorial Ground venue once renowned as rugby's Marie Celeste – have waited a long time to discover if Will Greenwood can bring some of his Lions swagger home to south west London. All season, in fact. Happily for both the Quins faithful and the England hierarchy, that wish will be granted this weekend when the most creative red rose centre for many a long year confronts Munster in the second round of Heineken Cup pool matches.
Greenwood pranged an ankle in the early stages of the Lions' punch-up with New South Wales last June, and has not laced up a boot in anger since leaving the Sydney Football Stadium on crutches. The Quins management, positively enlightened under the chief executiveship of Mark Evans, have given the 28-year-old Lancastrian all the time he needs, to the extent that they withdrew him from their 22-man squad at Bridgend last Saturday night at the player's request.
"Will did not feel quite 100 per cent, and it seemed pointless him risking a game without being absolutely certain about it," said Evans yesterday. "He'll definitely play at the weekend, though." Quins are so confident of Greenwood's ability to slip back into the highest level of club rugby without thinking twice that they decided against giving him a second-team run-out at Leicester last night. Instead, he attended an England get-together in Bagshot – the start of Clive Woodward's build-up to the Six Nations Grand Slam match with Ireland in Dublin on 20 October.
Other international players were not feeling quite so button-bright after the first tranche of European matches. Northampton's Nick Beal, a former England full-back, will be out of commission for at least a month after breaking his nose in a head-on collision with his old clubmate Matt Allen during the Midlanders' heavy defeat at Cardiff on Friday night; indeed, Beal went under the knife yesterday to have a false bridge inserted in the damaged region. Meanwhile, Llanelli's Simon Easterby may miss the Ireland matches with Wales and England, as well as his club's important Heineken meeting with Perpignan, after being invalided out of Leicester with a head injury at the weekend.
There was better news for Jannie de Beer, the Springbok outside-half who drop-goaled England out of the last World Cup, and the exciting Welsh prospect Tom Shanklin. Both have been struggling with knee injuries, but expect to return to duty with Saracens when the Watford-based side travel to Romania for their Parker Pen Shield match with Dinamo Bucharest on Saturday.
Still with the Shield contingent, Gloucester were last night preparing to welcome the one-time Wales outside-half and uniquely imaginative backs coach Paul Turner to the Kingsholm staff. Philippe Saint-André, the head honcho, had been searching for a back-line specialist since falling out with Andy Keast four days before the start of the season. He made overtures to the Australian Glen Ella and the New Zealander John Kirwan before settling on Turner, who earned his corn at Sale, Bedford and Saracens before surfacing in National League One club Rugby. "We are still trying to sort out Paul's position at Rugby, but they have said they will accept his decision and will not stand in his way," said Ken Nottage, the Gloucester managing director.
Across the Channel, the Heineken Cup powerhouses of Toulouse confirmed last night that their preferred big-match stadium, Stade Municipal, would not be available for any of their matches in the current campaign. The venue was damaged during the recent explosion at the AZF chemical factory, which killed at least 29 people. The Frenchmen have halted development work at the smaller of their two grounds, Stade des Sept Deniers, and will play all their home matches there. "We're not having the best of luck at the moment," said Guy Noves, their coach – an understatement if ever there was one.