Leicester, currently battling in vain against the most debilitating casualty list in recent Premiership history, have resigned themselves to losing their England international Mathew Tait for several weeks – a period that could easily become several months, given the full-back’s reputation as a slow healer.
Tait is still experiencing a high degree of pain after injuring his neck during the Midlanders’ heavy defeat at Gloucester three days ago.
With two more No 15s, Scott Hamilton and Niall Morris, also struggling for fitness – Morris is not expected back in the mix until December at the earliest – Leicester have turned to the second-tier Championship club Jersey for reinforcements.
Tommy Bell, on the Tigers’ radar before the latest of Tait’s many orthopaedic misfortunes, has activated a release clause in his contract and is expected to arrive at Welford Road in the next few days. An early first-XV debut is a distinct possibility. The 21-year-old Devonian won England age-group honours, began his senior rugby career at Sale and subsequently spent time with Wasps, where he played alongside his brother, the centre Chris. He was recently shortlisted for the Championship’s player of the month award after a strong start to the campaign, but lost out to the Bristol outside-half Matthew Morgan.
Tait’s situation is miserable indeed. Used and abused by more than one England coach during his intermittently spectacular career as an outside centre of great panache, he threw himself into the full-back role at Leicester and, on the rare occasions when he was not incapacitated by injury, looked like a World Cup No 15 in the making. Sadly, he has been unable to string a dozen games together over the last year and a half.
With well over 20 players unavailable, Leicester have lost three of their five league matches to date and are way below the fold in the table. They will soon have their outstanding Argentine loose-head prop Marcos Ayerza available to them, the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship having concluded last weekend, and he will help no end. But they remain in a bad place at tight-head prop, lock, centre and out wide.
“I have never known anything like it – it’s ridiculous,” said the much travelled World Cup-winning All Black lock Brad Thorn, who, at 39, made his Leicester debut against Gloucester. “At the Broncos [his Australian rugby league side], we had our whole back line go down once, but at least we still had our pack. I have never seen injuries on this scale.”
The organisers of the new European Champions Cup, which gets underway a week on Friday, are slowly piecing together a network of major sponsors who, together with broadcasters across the continent, are expected to make the tournament the richest in northern hemisphere club rugby. The brewing company Heineken is definitely on board, even though their “own” competition, the Heineken Cup, was controversially scrapped at the end of last season.Reuse content