Leicester – and England – suffered a nasty one-two on the injury front when a pair of Lions Test forwards, the hooker Tom Youngs and the lock Geoff Parling, were ruled off-limits by the medics.
Youngs will definitely miss the autumn international series in November after wrecking a shoulder joint during last weekend’s record defeat by Bath, while Parling’s prospects have been clouded by the latest in a worrying run of concussion injuries.
While Youngs has already undergone surgery and is unlikely to be seen in a competitive scrum before Christmas, there is no such certainty surrounding Parling, one of precious few cast-iron successes on England’s summer tour of New Zealand.
“Geoff has had two concussions in three games,” said Richard Cockerill, the Midlanders’ rugby director. “We’re waiting for advice from the specialist but he won’t be fit for this weekend and he may need some ‘downtime’, for obvious reasons. When there’s a concern over someone’s health, playing is secondary.”
After last season’s tale of injury woe, Leicester are in bits once again: Dan Cole and Ed Slater, two first-choice tight forwards, are also on the long-term injury list, while the senior centre pairing of Anthony Allen and Manu Tuilagi missed the nightmarish trip to Bath.
Not that the West Countrymen have escaped the curse of orthopaedic trauma. Mike Ford, the Bath head coach, is preparing himself for bad news surrounding the flanker Carl Fearns, who left the Recreation Ground on crutches four days ago. Fearns was due a scan on his damaged ankle yesterday, the results of which will be analysed by club doctors over the next 24 hours, but few people at The Rec expect anything other than a lengthy lay-off.
Should the worst come to the worst, Bath will be in serious back-row strife. Their best player, the Springbok loose forward Francois Louw, has just had an operation to repair nerve damage in his neck and is not expected to play Premiership rugby until mid-December, while the highly effective Matt Garvey is in the early stages of a 12-week recovery from ankle surgery. A concentration of injuries in one position can easily undermine a title challenge, as Bath may find out this weekend when they travel to Northampton, the champions, with a bare-bones breakaway trio and an academy player on the bench.
This issue throws up the intriguing possibility of Sam Burgess, the latest world-class rugby league player to try his hand at union, spending the early weeks of his new career in the pack, rather than in midfield. The England coaches are keen to fast-track Burgess into the squad as an inside centre, and expect him to play at No 12 when he arrives in Bath in the middle of next month. However, some good judges believe that if he is to challenge for Test honours, he is most likely to do it as a blind-side flanker.
If the midfield option proves non-negotiable, Burgess will have to ease the in-form Kyle Eastmond out of the Bath back division and also prove himself a better operator than the gifted Ollie Devoto. “I’m sure Mike will be having conversations with England about all this,” said the Bath coach Toby Booth, “but what’s important is what’s best for the team. The team being Bath.”Reuse content