England’s chances of beating Ireland at Twickenham this weekend and putting themselves in a strong position to challenge for the Six Nations title received a sickening blow last night when the tight-head prop Dan Cole was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a neck injury.
The Leicester forward, just about the least dispensable member of Stuart Lancaster’s red-rose squad, broke down during a gym session and was immediately diagnosed as suffering from a bulging disc and accompanying nerve trouble.
Lancaster, the head coach, described the news as “massively disappointing”, and he could not be accused of exaggerating. Cole’s long-term understudy, David Wilson of Bath, missed the first two rounds of Six Nations activity after picking up a calf injury before Christmas – a problem that condemned him to two months on the sidelines. He returned to Premiership rugby against Exeter at the weekend, but as he struggled at the scrum and looked even more out of sorts around the field, his performance was some way short of vintage.
The other tight-head specialist in the England squad, Henry Thomas of Sale, has provided cover in Wilson’s absence, but he was not used in the opening championship game with France in Paris and played no more than a few minutes at the back end of the comfortable victory over Scotland at Murrayfield. Thomas is not even a first-choice player at his club, so the prospect of him squaring up to Leinster’s Cian Healy this weekend is more than a little alarming.
Cole’s problem emerged during England’s training camp at St George’s Park, the national football centre in Staffordshire. “The important thing… is that Dan gets the appropriate rest and treatment,” Lancaster said. “Our medics are working closely with Leicester’s to come up with a programme that ensures he returns in the best possible shape.” Wilson was included in a revamped 33-man squad for the meeting with the unbeaten Irish.
Meanwhile, there were strong rumours at Bath that Sam Burgess, the England rugby league international who plays with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, had agreed terms for a cross-code switch and would be heading for the West Country by the end of the year. There was no clear indication, however, as to whether the Rugby Football Union had made any financial commitment in helping to secure the deal.
Glasgow Warriors prop Moray Low will quit the club in the summer after agreeing to join Exeter Chiefs on a two-year deal. The 29-year-old Scotland international has spent up eight seasons with the Warriors after signing for them in 2006.
The Exeter coach, Rob Baxter, who will be losing tightheads Hoani Tui and Craig Mitchell at the end of the season, said: “It is obviously a very good signing for us as we are losing a couple of quality tightheads so replacement has been a big part of our recruitment.”