Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, might be more interested in the political argy-bargy surrounding the future of the Heineken Cup if things were just a little quieter on the injury front ahead of an autumn international series in which his team will play southern hemisphere opposition on four consecutive weekends, including the world champions from New Zealand and their nearest challengers in the global rankings, Australia and South Africa. Unfortunately for him, the noise yesterday was very loud indeed.
Northampton announced that Ben Foden, hurt in a man-and-ball tackle by the Bath wing Tom Biggs during a Premiership match at the Recreation Ground last Friday night, had suffered "significant" ankle ligament damage and would be incapacitated for "a number of weeks". On the face of it, Foden's goose is well and truly cooked as far as the Tests in November and December are concerned.
Moved from full-back to left-wing during the summer series in South Africa, he would have been a hot favourite to wear the No 11 shirt against Fiji in a little over eight weeks' time and his likely absence raises an issue. The 32-man senior squad named by Lancaster in July is notably light on wings: the only true specialists are Chris Ashton of Saracens and Charlie Sharples of Gloucester. As things stand, Sharples is also on the injury list, having mangled his right shoulder joint at London Irish 11 days ago.
The coach is already a prop light as a result of Matt Stevens' retirement from international rugby; has lost his second-string hooker, Rob Webber of Bath, to long-term injury; and cannot be sure that any of what might be called his first-choice crocks – the scrum-half Ben Youngs, the prop Alex Corbisiero and the flanker Tom Croft – will be sufficiently fit to challenge for a place against the hard-hitting Fijians. Youngs and Corbisiero were hurt in Springbok country while Croft is still recovering from the serious neck injury he suffered while playing for Leicester at Harlequins in April. There is no immediate prospect of an early return for any of them.
Lancaster will, however, be encouraged by the return of the Northampton forward Courtney Lawes last week and must have reacted with considerable relief to yesterday's news that Tom Johnson, the Exeter back-rower, will recover from a rib injury sooner rather than later. Johnson, a major contributor in the drawn Test with the Boks in Johannesburg in June, left the field on a stretcher midway through his club's weekend defeat at London Welsh but, according to the Devonians, the problem is a lot less serious than originally feared.
Meanwhile, the warring factions left their first Heineken Cup summit in Dublin yesterday with no firm plan, barring an agreement to meet again in Rome on 8 October. A spokesman for the tournament administrators said there had been "productive discussions" on the future of European competition.
English and French clubs have served notice of their intention to quit the existing tournament in 2014 unless major competitive and commercial changes are agreed.