Hurter injury damages Falcons' scrum options

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The Independent Online

Two international tight-head props, the South African Marius Hurter and the Devonian Julian White, went training with their respective clubs yesterday – something of a breakthrough in White's case, given his troubled relationship with Bristol. If the experience was rather embarrassing for one of them, it was excruciatingly painful for the other.

Two international tight-head props, the South African Marius Hurter and the Devonian Julian White, went training with their respective clubs yesterday – something of a breakthrough in White's case, given his troubled relationship with Bristol. If the experience was rather embarrassing for one of them, it was excruciatingly painful for the other.

While White was making his peace with his fellow West Countrymen following a contractual wrangle that landed both parties in court, Hurter was being whisked off to hospital with a damaged right shoulder, which gave way during a Newcastle scrummaging session.

Hurter seems certain to miss the first month of the season, which features demanding matches against the Heineken Cup champions Leicester and the European Shield holders Harlequins. "I broke my leg last year and fought my way back, only for this to happen," groaned the 30-year-old Springbok from Potchefstroom. "Injuries are a part of the game, and it's a long season. But it's disappointing to be sidelined right at the start of the campaign."

Given Newcastle's fragility in the front row – a weakness exacerbated by the retirement of Ross Nesdale, their outstanding hooker, at the end of last season – Hurter's absence could prove extremely costly. There is no guarantee that the South African will return in time for the opening two rounds of the Heineken Cup, scheduled for the weekends of 29 September and 6 October, and his absence then would leave the Falcons seriously exposed on their first venture into the big boys' league.

Contrastingly, White expects to hit peak fitness sooner rather than later, despite the fact that his close-season training has been hampered by his ill-advised flirtation with litigation. "I haven't managed a proper pre-season," he admitted yesterday, "and when you train alone, you don't push yourself as hard as you might with someone shouting at you. But I'm feeling good, and I reckon I'll be back to full fitness pretty quickly."

White, widely acknowledged as the most potent scrummager in the British game, signed a pre-contractual agreement with Bristol last season while still at Saracens, but then tried to extricate himself from it when more glamourous clubs, notably Bath, signalled an interest in his services.

Bristol dug in their heels and won their case, although the player is thought to have emerged from the affair with an enhanced three-year deal. Such is the way of professional sport.

On the transfer front, Leeds appear to have been thwarted in their ambitious attempt to import two big-name Springboks, the goal-kicking midfielder Braam van Straaten and the prop Cobus Visagie, in time for their opening Premiership match with Bath at Headingley on Sunday.

According to reports in South Africa, Van Straaten has agreed to fulfil his Currie Cup commitments with Western Province, which will keep him in the republic for another month at least. Visagie, meanwhile, is under pressure to agree a new deal with the South African Rugby Football Union.

Bath, whose Premiership experience is considerably wider than that of their first-up opponents, are also likely be short of some significant personnel at the weekend. Iain Balshaw, struggling for fitness following a disappointing Lions tour, and Mike Catt, whose sojourn in Australia was cut short by injury, are out of the running, as is the highly rated young outside-half Ollie Barkley.

All of which leaves the ever- dependable Matt Perry, a rugby workhorse if ever there was one, as the stand-in stand-off, so to speak. Perry turned out at 10 in the weekend friendly against Aberavon and scored a try in Bath's 43-8 victory.

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