Typical. Just when a player rediscovers something approaching his best international form after a spell in the doldrums, he does himself a mischief and disappears from view. Ben Youngs, who put two tries past the Springboks at Ellis Park and generally performed like the high-calibre scrum-half England took him to be when he was first capped in 2010, will not recover from shoulder damage in time for this weekend's final Test in Port Elizabeth.
Indeed, he may be incapacitated for as long as three months. According to Stuart Lancaster, the red-rose head coach, Youngs suffered the injury during the second half of Saturday's game. "He was sore at the time, but it was only after a night's sleep that he really found himself struggling," Lancaster reported yesterday. "It quickly became clear that his tour was over. He's very disappointed, obviously."
Karl Dickson of Harlequins was flying to South Africa last night, having cut short a holiday in the Spanish resort of Alicante. He will arrive as third-choice No 9 behind his clubmate, the freshly rehabilitated Danny Care, and his brother Lee, who replaced Youngs off the bench in the closing stages of the Ellis Park contest. As both Care and Lee Dickson will be required for the finale in the Eastern Cape, the newcomer is certain to play a prominent part in tomorrow's "dirt-tracker" game with a South African Barbarians northern selection in Potchefstroom.
It was not entirely clear when Youngs' problems initially occurred, but he certainly jarred his right shoulder joint in attempting to prevent the Springbok wing J P Pietersen scoring his side's fourth and decisive try eight minutes from time. He was nursing the injury when he reflected on the game an hour after close of play, but was more concerned by England's fragile mental approach at the start of the match – they conceded 22 points in 18 minutes – than by anything of an orthopaedic nature.
"We were blowing pretty hard in the opening stages," Youngs admitted, "but that was because the Boks were really making us work, not because of the thin air. Anyway, altitude is a poor excuse. We're professional players and we should be used to it, just as we should have dealt with our nerves at the start. That was the disappointing thing: we were hesitant from the kick-off, even though we understood the importance of the game. There was a bit of panic out there and if Stuart is putting that down to tension, I wouldn't disagree."
Youngs was not best pleased with the officiating of the first scrum of the game, which resulted in a soft opening try for the Springbok flanker Willem Alberts. "It should have been reset," he argued, convinced that as no front-row forward touched the ball before it emerged on the blind side, there had been no proper completion. "But even so, it was our fault that we gave the Boks so much cheap ball in that first 20 minutes. They were very intense in what they did and we didn't handle it."
There were no further bad tidings on the injury front yesterday. With George Lowe, the young Harlequins centre, already off the tour with an ankle injury – his clubmate Mike Brown has also departed with a busted thumb – Jonny May of Gloucester has joined the squad to cover a variety of wide positions. Happily, the Saracens centre Brad Barritt is back on active duty after having stitches inserted into an eyeball. The naturalised South African was injured in Durban, his home city, and underwent specialist treatment there.