England have already lost two first-choice backs for the November Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, so the prospect of negotiating the autumn without the man who has led the side for well over a year, the Saracens lock Steve Borthwick, was not terribly enticing. Happily for the manager, Martin Johnson, who has nailed his colours firmly to the Borthwick mast, yesterday's injury bulletin was not entirely negative.
Borthwick, injured at Harlequins last weekend, is suffering from a sprained rib cartilage and is confidently expected to recover full fitness in time for the meeting with the Wallabies in a little under seven weeks' time. In fact, the Saracens director of rugby, Brendan Venter, has not completely dismissed the line-out specialist's chances of facing Gloucester on Sunday, although this may be merely a reflection of Venter's apparent inability to feel pain during his own playing days.
Johnson, shorn of a senior full-back in Delon Armitage and a front-line centre in Riki Flutey – both men are suffering from shoulder problems that will render them hors de combat for the best part of three months – must be relieved. There are engine-room options in the elite party, even though the manager has taken the peculiar decision to relegate Nick Kennedy of London Irish to the second-string Saxons squad, but with Simon Shaw, such a success for the Lions against the Springboks, struggling for fitness, the last thing he needed was another second-row injury issue.
Certainly, he would not wish to lose someone performing as well as Venter believes Borthwick is playing. "Steve is a world-class international lock," said the South African of his captain. "If you're talking about honest, hard-working, disciplined individuals, he fits the bill 100 per cent."
Flutey's absence at inside centre is likely to cause the most grief. There is an Old Mother Hubbardish look about the cupboard at No 12, especially as one of the contenders, Jordan Turner-Hall of Harlequins, is awaiting the results of a scan on his left shoulder.
England will play two Tests in Australia next summer. The first will take place on 12 June in Perth, where the two nations have never met, with the second going ahead a week later in Sydney.
Two of the harder-hitting loose forwards in the Premiership, Gloucester captain Gareth Delve and London Irish flanker George Stowers, were last night handed three-week suspensions for hitting each other at the end of the match at the Madejski Stadium nine days ago. Stowers also had an offence of dangerous tackling taken into consideration. Both men will miss next month's opening round of the Heineken Cup.Reuse content