An international player knows he is out of form when his coach volunteers him for a stint of club rugby midway through a Six Nations tournament. Sam Warburton, a victorious Lions captain just seven months ago, suffered this indignity when he left the Wales camp for an emergency spell of back-row activity at Cardiff Blues.
Gethin Jenkins, the much decorated prop, was ordered to beat the same retreat, while the Red Dragon hierarchy tacitly admitted that Adam Jones, still rated the world's premier tight-head specialist, was off the pace. How the mighty have fallen.
The fact that players as celebrated as Warburton and Jenkins are likely to play for the Blues in a Pro 12 match with Glasgow this coming Saturday, less than a week before a Wales-France contest at the Millennium Stadium that could easily end the reigning champions' dream of an unprecedented third successive title, says everything about the seriousness of the situation on the far side of a bloated River Severn.
Jones and the lock Andrew Coombes also started the game with Ireland four days ago – a match in which Wales suffered their heaviest championship defeat since 2006 – and with the head coach Warren Gatland admitting that they had also travelled to Dublin with too few playing miles on the clock, he expected hard questions to be asked.
"We've spoken to the players and they've admitted the performance was below par and unlike them," Gatland said. "We've had a close look at ourselves as coaches as well, in terms of what we could have done differently. We need to take collective responsibility. When we look back, there were probably four of the pack who hadn't played a lot of recent rugby. We're looking at everything – the game, the personnel, whether we need to make a couple of changes. Do we give the players an opportunity to show that Dublin was a one-off, that they're better than that?"
There may be an enforced switch in the side, irrespective of how Warburton and Jenkins shape up for the Blues. Scott Williams, the Scarlets midfielder, injured his right shoulder in Dublin and is by no means certain to recover in time for the meeting with Les Bleus. Equally, the return of another injured Scarlets back, the Lions Test player Jonathan Davies, is far from a done deal. If both are ruled out, Gatland could restore the gifted, but untrusted, James Hook to outside centre or redeploy the left wing George North.
England, meanwhile, have a clean bill of health as they start planning for the big game with Ireland at Twickenham in 10 days' time. The starting XV from the victory over the Scots at Murrayfield are being held in camp; everyone else in the 33-man elite squad is available for Premiership duty this weekend. It means Freddie Burns, the Gloucester outside-half widely thought to be joining Leicester at the end of the season, is free to play for his current club on Sunday... at Leicester.Reuse content