Dan Cole, by some distance England’s biggest injury concern as they head towards next year’s home World Cup, has an even-money chance of returning to top-level rugby before Christmas following surgery to replace a bulging disc in his neck.
The tight-head prop from Leicester has not played since breaking down in the gym during last season’s Six Nations, but according to the Welford Road hierarchy, he has been given the go-ahead to resume light training and could be back between the front-row shafts by mid-December.
The England coach, Stuart Lancaster, remains concerned at the lack of serious contenders in this most demanding of positions: although David Wilson of Bath has made a significant contribution in Cole’s absence and Kieran Brookes of Newcastle did his reputation a power of good during the summer tour of New Zealand, there is no denying the 27-year-old Test Lion’s importance to a side heavily dependent on set-piece superiority.
If Lancaster has a fit Cole available to him for the 2015 Six Nations, he will rest easier in his bed.
When the problem was diagnosed last February, there were serious concerns about the Midlander’s long-term future: all too often, such complaints lead to premature retirement.
Only this week, the Wallaby wing Pat McCabe – one of the men expected to face England in the World Cup in September next year – bowed out of the sport on medical advice following the latest in a series of neck injuries.
But on Wednesday, Cole’s prognosis was positive. “Dan has had the all-clear from the surgeon and can start ramping up his training,” said Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby. “The disc replacement means his neck will be stronger than it was in the first place and we’re currently looking at a 12-week timetable, although we’re happy to give him as long as he needs.”