If England thought they were well off for loose-head props – better off, perhaps, than any country in world rugby – they must now think again.
Alex Corbisiero of Northampton, rated by many as the best No 1 in the sport, will not recover from a shoulder injury in time for the forthcoming autumn international series at Twickenham and may miss the Six Nations, which begins with a desperately hard trip to Wales in early February.
This is a heavy blow to Stuart Lancaster, the red-rose coach, who has already lost another Lions Test prop, Mako Vunipola of Saracens, for next month’s meetings with the cream of the southern hemisphere, including the barely beatable All Blacks.
He cannot even consider rolling back the years by sending for the best-loved English loose head of recent times, Andrew Sheridan, who has finally confirmed his long-anticipated retirement with a chronic neck condition.
With Sheridan out of sight and largely out of mind since joining the crack French club Toulon shortly after England’s shambolic demise at the last World Cup in 2011, Corbisiero was, and remains, his natural successor.
But the American-born forward has suffered some serious injury setbacks, mostly relating to the career-threatening knee condition that led to Vunipola being selected ahead of him for last year’s triumphant Lions tour of Australia, although Corbisiero was immediately promoted ahead of his rival after being given a late call-up.
His current issue is brand new: a torn shoulder ligament sustained during Northampton’s narrow victory over Bath last weekend. “The specialist’s advice is that the tear needs surgical repair so Alex can play to an optimal level in the future,” said a spokesman for the Premiership champions.
The task of taming the New Zealand scrum in the first of the autumn Tests on 8 November will almost certainly fall to the Harlequins captain Joe Marler, who has not had things all his own way at the set piece in recent weeks.
Matt Mullan of Wasps, an eternal front-row understudy, can also expect some game time. If either man is injured between now and then, the England coaches may have no choice but to go in search of a second opinion on Sheridan’s neck.
To make matters worse on the England tight forward front, lock Geoff Parling was also ruled out of the autumn matches following the latest in a series of concussions, thereby joining three other Leicester men – hooker Tom Youngs, tight-head prop Dan Cole and fellow second-rower Ed Slater – on the list of long-term crocks.
There was, however, the hint of a silver lining when Richard Cockerill, the Tigers’ rugby director, declared that Parling would definitely return to big-time rugby.
Cockerill was equally insistent that despite his team’s recent tribulations – a humiliating shellacking at Bath and a rare home defeat by London Irish – he was up for the fight.
“I get a huge amount of pressure when we lose but I’m not going anywhere and I’m doing this my way,” Cockerill said. “I’m not taking somebody else’s advice, doing what someone else wants and then get the sack. That’s rubbish. When we get to the other side, and we will, we’ll be the better for it.”Reuse content