Mike Tindall's chances of making this summer's British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, already slimmer than a supermodel's fingernail, virtually disappeared yesterday when the Bath coach John Connolly confirmed the injured World Cup-winning centre's absence from the next two matches - the Powergen Cup final with Leeds at Twickenham on Saturday and the Premiership game at London Irish on Sunday week.
That leaves Tindall only one home fixture, also against Leeds on 30 April, in which to prove his fitness and, according to Connolly, he may not be selected anyway.
"In terms of Mike's chances, there is a short answer - it's going to be difficult for him," the coach said. "We'd like to help him out, but we have to balance that against the needs of the team."
In other words, Bath will not play the Gloucester-bound midfielder out of sympathy unless their Premiership match with the Yorkshiremen has been rendered meaningless. As they will probably have to win the game to secure a place in the end-of-season play-offs, it is likely to mean plenty.
Tindall has been struggling with foot problems for some months, but when Sir Clive Woodward named his Lions party on Monday, he bracketed him with two other crocked England internationals, Jonny Wilkinson and Phil Vickery, as fringe players who might make the tour if they regain full fitness by the middle of May.
On Tuesday, Tindall finally discarded his orthopaedic boot and started jogging - the first steps on the road to an unlikely salvation. Unfortunately for him, that road seems too long by half.
Bath expect to include Matthew Perry, the Test full-back on the Lions tour of Australia in 2001, in their cup final line-up, having put him through his paces in training yesterday.
They also believe that Steve Borthwick, the influential lock and stand-in captain, will recover from shoulder trouble in time to feature at Twickenham, although he may require corrective surgery sooner rather than later.
David Barnes, their enthusiastic prop, is definitely out of the running, but they have a more than adequate replacement in David Flatman, who will probably start on the bench.
The aforementioned Wilkinson, less a rugby player than an apparition these last 17 months or so, has been named in a 26-man Newcastle squad for tomorrow night's Premiership game at Northampton, but there is no guarantee of his participation. Currently suffering from damaged knee ligaments, he will be assessed again today, as will two of his fellow strugglers, the props Ian Peel and James Isaacson.
The All Blacks have confirmed their plans to undertake a Grand Slam tour of the British Isles in the autumn after agreeing a fixture with Wales, the Six Nations champions, at the Millennium Stadium on 5 November.
The match, a pyrotechnical affair if ever there was one, will launch the Welsh Rugby Union's 125th anniversary celebrations and mark a century's passing since the 1905 "Originals" played in Cardiff under the captaincy of the great Dave Gallaher.
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