Lewis Moody is a "first out of the trenches" kind of leader and he courts danger as a result – especially when he leads with his head, as he did while playing for Bath against Gloucester in last week's West Country derby. The England captain's blood-curdling collision with the full-back Charlie Sharples early in the second half left him nursing a nasty eye injury that may prevent him facing the All Blacks at Twickenham on 6 November.
Characteristically, Moody did everything in his power to play down the effects of some extensive bruising around the right eye socket. "Much better news than at first thought," he commented. This was not quite the way Steve Meehan, the Bath coach, saw it. Meehan said the injury could take a month to heal, and if it does, England will have to take on the world's best team without their gung-ho flanker.
"Lewis took a serious knock," Meehan confirmed, "and it's very tough on him. He was just getting used to Bath's style of play and it's equally frustrating for the rest of us to lose him at this stage of the season. We will of course make sure he receives the best possible attention and we'll get him back on the field as and when he's ready."
England dumped Moody's most recent understudy, the London Irish breakaway Steffon Armitage, after the summer tour of Australia, replacing him with Hendre Fourie of Leeds. The naturalised South African played a blinder for his club last weekend, but the notion of throwing an uncapped flanker straight in against the majestic All Black skipper Richie McCaw is interesting, to say the least. Other alternatives include Joe Worsley of Wasps, no more than an occasional operator in the No 7 position, and his clubmate Tom Rees, whose chronic injury record means he is no more than an occasional player.
If only the gifted Rees could take a leaf from Jonny Wilkinson's book. Heaven knows, the World Cup-winning outside-half is familiar with the depression associated with constant orthopaedic trauma, but he has stayed fit for more than a season now and is performing at a high standard for Toulon in the French Top 14 tournament. Yesterday, he gave the strongest of hints that he will extend his stay on the Côte d'Azur by signing a new contract.
"I have no desire and no reason to change teams," he said. "When you feel good, you can do your best. We play big matches in big stadiums and that helps me bring out the best in myself. I'm very happy in Toulon. There's a passion for rugby here. I've never experienced anything like it."
This weekend, the master goal-kicker will line up against the powerful Welsh side Ospreys in a high-profile Heineken Cup match at Stade Felix Mayol. By coincidence, Ospreys are facing the growing possibility of losing their own stellar midfielder, James Hook, to the French club scene next season. Perpignan, who chased Hook last year without success, say their talks with the 25-year-old international are at an advanced stage and seem confident of closing the deal.
This season's European activity begins tonight with second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup games in Newcastle and Paris. Ally Hogg, the Scottish Test forward, will lead the Tynesiders in their pool match with Bourgoin at Kingston Park.Reuse content