Mallinder, Lougheed return to stem tide of injuries

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The Independent Online

Three weeks into the new season - a Lions season to boot - and the poor bloody infantry are already going down like ninepins, to the extent that two international players have been dragooned out of semi-retirement to make up the numbers in tonight's round of Premiership matches. Jim Mallinder, the 34-year-old Sale assistant coach, will turn out at full-back as the northerners eye a top-four place at Bristol, while Dave Lougheed, two years younger but infinitely more knocked about, will surprise everyone, not least himself, by making his debut for Gloucester at Newcastle.

Three weeks into the new season - a Lions season to boot - and the poor bloody infantry are already going down like ninepins, to the extent that two international players have been dragooned out of semi-retirement to make up the numbers in tonight's round of Premiership matches. Jim Mallinder, the 34-year-old Sale assistant coach, will turn out at full-back as the northerners eye a top-four place at Bristol, while Dave Lougheed, two years younger but infinitely more knocked about, will surprise everyone, not least himself, by making his debut for Gloucester at Newcastle.

The tough-as-old-boots Canadian Test player won back-to-back championship medals at Leicester before calling it a day in May to spend a proper amount of time developing his business interests. Those interests are now on the back burner thanks to the opportunism of Philippe Saint-Andre, the Gloucester coach, who shouted "Mayday" within Lougheed's earshot on Monday.

With five backs, including Tom Beim and Chris Catling, temporarily incapacitated, Saint-Andre was in serious danger of being unable to field a threequarter line worthy of the name. "Happily, Dave was keen to come here and he impressed in training yesterday; he's an international player, very strong and competitive," said the Frenchman. "He'll be with us for a week, maybe longer."

Mallinder, an age-old servant of Sale who won two England caps in Argentina three years ago, fills in for the impressive New Zealander Vaughan Going, who failed to survive the North Country derby with Newcastle last weekend.

Bristol, in keeping with the rest of the league, have injury troubles of their own: Garath Archer, their Test lock, is missing with back trouble and there are serious question marks over both Lee Best and Leigh Davies.

Northampton, already losing some of the sheen from their Heineken Cup-winning exploits of last season, have well over a dozen players on the injury list, including four international tight forwards in Garry Pagel, Tim Rodber, Martin Scelzo and Olivier Brouzet. Their pack for tonight's game with Harlequins is likely to feature Matt Volland at loose head and last season's pairing of Andy Newman and Jon Phillips in the boilerhouse.

Meanwhile, Andre Watson, of South Africa, was confirmed yesterday as the referee for England's hugely significant rumble with the world and Tri-Nations champions of Australia at Twickenham in November.

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