On the day it was reported England would embark on their longest summer tour in more than a decade, Martin Johnson was given a sharp reminder of the modern game's propensity to consign his men to the treatment table.
Joe Simpson is many experts' idea of the best No 9 currently playing in England but the brilliant young Wasp seems certain to miss the start of the Six Nations Championship. The 21-year-old dislocated his shoulder against Harlequins at Twickenham on Sunday and was due to see the medics yesterday to determine whether he need an operation.
If Simpson does require the knife he will miss the entire Championship – but even if he doesn't, the opening game with Wales will surely come too soon. His club side have apparently already accepted a period without him. "I am disappointed for Joe," said Tony Hanks, the Wasps director of rugby. "He has developed throughout the season and is one of the stand-out players of the Premiership. So we will miss him."
If it is dreadful news for Wasps, then it hardly represents a disaster to England. Johnson has Danny Care, Paul Hodgson and the fit-again Harry Ellis fighting it out to make the squad (which will be named in two weeks' time). But it is a disappointment – as it is a worry. Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey are only now returning from absences which kept the full-back and centre out of the autumn internationals. Their complaints? Dislocated shoulders. The injury really does seem to be the curse of the rugby union professional at the moment.
Simpson, however, should be recovered by June and as he was born in Sydney he will be understandably desperate to clinch a place on Johnson's touring party. It will certainly be a larger than average squad as the unconfirmed plans are to play five matches in three weeks. There will be two Tests against Australia, two warm-up games and then an ominous finale against the New Zealand Maori.
Notwithstanding any attritional effects, the extended trip makes sense coming a year before the World Cup in New Zealand. The Premiership clubs, who usually go all Arthur Scargill when extra international fixtures are mooted, are believed to be broadly in support.
On the domestic scene, Saracens have secured the services of Jacques Burger, the Namibian international, six months earlier than expected. Brendan Venter, the director of rugby who has put together something of a South African enclave in Watford, first spoke to the Bulls flanker earlier in the year, but initially the agreement was for Burger to arrive in June. But with the Wales backrower Michael Owen out for the season with a knee injury, he was needed immediately.
The 26-year-old will probably make his first appearance in the Saracens "A" side next week, although he has been training with the first team since Tuesday and could well feature in the gigantic tussle between the Guinness Premiership leaders and Leicester at Vicarage Road on Saturday.Reuse content