It does not get any better, either for Harlequins, struggling to regain their equilibrium following the fake blood affair, or for England, struggling as they are to find anyone resembling an inside centre who might be fit for action against the Wallabies at Twickenham in early November. With Toby Flood and Riki Flutey definitely out of contention and the likes of Olly Barkley and Sam Vesty yet to play club rugby this season, another No 12 disappeared down the plughole yesterday in the substantial shape of Jordan Turner-Hall.
The uncapped 21-year-old midfielder smashed his shoulder during Quins' home defeat by Saracens last weekend. Medical investigations revealed a labral tear and he has been booked in for an operation on Monday. It is most unlikely that he will play again before Christmas.
Not so long ago, Turner-Hall would have been considered a long-odds outsider for Test honours this autumn, despite the impressive scale of his contribution to Quins last season – not to mention the impressive scale on which he is constructed –and his presence in the second-string England Saxons squad named by the national manager Martin Johnson in July. The men ranked ahead of him were legion, and with the red-rose incumbent Flutey winning himself a Lions Test cap in South Africa during the summer, there seemed no reason to expect change any time soon.
Unfortunately, Flutey upset the applecart by playing while injured for Brive against Clermont Auvergne last month – a misjudgement that left him in need of shoulder surgery and a long period of rest and recuperation. Johnson and his colleagues at Twickenham were profoundly unimpressed with this development at the time and are even less happy in the light of this latest orthopaedic bulletin. Turner-Hall may be inexperienced, but he was one of very few options left to the selectors ahead of the meeting with Australia, who just happen to be rather strong in the inside centre department.
As for Quins, the coaches must be tearing out their hair by the roots. The events of the summer – all the fines, resignations, suspensions, inquests and humiliations – are taking their toll: the Londoners have lost all three of their Premiership matches, have yet to score a try on home soil and are bottom of the table, if only by a point. And tonight, just by way of rubbing it in, they must make the awkward trip to Newcastle, who feel rather good about themselves at the moment.
Quins might reasonably have expected to steer clear of the Tynesiders' captain, the powerful All Black tight-head prop Carl Hayman, as well as their first-choice half-backs, the Super 14 outside-half Jimmy Gopperth and the highly-rated scrum-half Micky Young. Hayman managed only 40 minutes at Leicester last weekend while Gopperth and Young were not considered fit enough to start the game. All three have been included in the team for tonight's match, however.
"We're perhaps missing a little team cohesion but I'm not sure you can short-cut that process," said Steve Bates, the Newcastle director of rugby, who oversaw the Premiership's biggest turnover of personnel during the close season. "The subtlety of teamwork is not quite there yet, but we've shown signs of the rugby we are capable of playing in all three games so far.
"As for Quins and what happened to them over the summer, I don't know how that situation will affect them from a rugby point of view. You could argue that they will close ranks, pull together massively and turn it into a them-against-us siege mentality."
Number of points Jordan Turner-Hall scored for England against the Barbarians in May.Reuse content