After 48 hours of nothing but bad news for Andy Robinson, the England head coach was given some glad tidings yesterday. Saracens reported that their rugby league convert and England elite squad member, Andy Farrell, had come unscathed through 80 minutes of an A League match against Gloucester on Monday evening. England had released Farrell from this week's squad training at Loughborough to get some more union experience.
Despite a spate of injuries - Robinson was unable to call on 23 members of his elite squad this week - and the run of five defeats, the former England prop Jason Leonard talked up England's World Cup chances, and suggested who should be captain, at the launch of the EDF Energy Anglo-Welsh Cup yesterday.
Leonard said: "I would not bet against England. They have the players and a good coaching team plus backroom staff. And I think Martin Corry is the man to captain England. He is a world-class player, someone who leads by example. He always looks bashed up, but Cozza is that sort of person, he is not scared of anything, he will put his head in places where people won't even put their feet."
But fearless players get injured and another comp-etition puts more of Robinson's charges at risk as an already crammed season starts to bulge at the seams.
Damien Hopley, chief executive of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, said: "Something has to give. Unfortunately it always tends to be the players' bodies." But the clubs need the revenue. The Guinness Premiership is worth around £1m per club. The Heineken Cup, which is a level above the domestic programme, generates a disappointing £300,000 per club, hence the entry of EDFwith their three-year deal worth an estimated £3m.
The RFU's chairman, Martyn Thomas, welcomes talk from the International Rugby Board about a possible global season. "Francis [Baron] and I were at a chief executive and chairman's meeting at the IRB two weeks ago, where, for the first time, there was recognition of the potential for a global season. The IRB are going to look at it at their November meeting."
Already, just four Premiership matches into the season, Northampton have learnt their captain, Bruce Reihana, needs an operation to repair damaged ligaments in his right knee and will be out until the New Year. This comes 24 hours after Saints learnt their England hooker, Steve Thompson, faces four to six weeks out after tearing a calf muscle last weekend.
Harlequins have lost the scrum-half Steve So'oialo for four weeks after he fractured a hand against Leicester last Saturday.